How to find homeless services and shelter in San Jose
A homeless encampment in downtown San Jose is pictured in this file photo.

The past year has been a difficult one for many people in San Jose, especially those facing homelessness and housing insecurity.

Finding information about shelter and housing can be a difficult and confusing process. Here’s a guide answering some of the most commonly asked questions from readers about finding housing, as well as some resources that can help.

What types of shelter and housing are available in San Jose?

There are many terms used to refer to housing options, and they can be confusing. Let’s break them down:

Shelters: Homeless shelters across the South Bay provide a bed and a place to stay overnight. Depending on your health and vulnerability, you may also be referred to a motel room. These are not permanent housing options. There are eight shelters in San Jose.

Supportive Housing: Typically an apartment. Living in supportive housing means you also have access to services such as mental health counseling, addiction support, housing vouchers and job training.

Transitional/Interim/Bridge Housing: a place where someone moves into for a short period of time while looking for long-term housing. These are also typically apartments.

Affordable Housing: Apartments that have restrictions on the rental costs, usually based on a person’s income level which can range from extremely low-income to low-income.

Rapid Rehousing: Rapid Rehousing is a program that helps individuals and families find a place to rent and provides government funds to help pay for it for a set period of time. The program provides case management and support with the goal of helping individuals or families rent on their own.

What should you do if you need a shelter?

The first step is to call the Santa Clara County homeless hotline at (408) 278-6420. They’re open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week. During the call, an outreach worker will ask questions about your age, health, housing situation and more. Depending on your vulnerability, they will refer you to a shelter or a motel room. If the line is busy, leave a message and an outreach worker will follow up with you. The hotline has interpreters for Spanish, Vietnamese and Tagalog.

Some shelters in San Jose are walk-in, first-come, first-served. You can find a list of shelter locations and contact information here. If you are looking for a shelter that accepts families with children, you can also call (408) 926-8885 to be placed on a waiting list.

What if I don’t have access to a phone? Is there any place I can go to use a phone, or speak to a person directly?

If you do not have a phone, you can visit your local drop-in center or shelter and ask to use their phone. You can find a list of drop-in centers, shelters and other homeless services here.

You can also use the phone at Catholic Charities’ walk-up mail window in downtown San Jose: 195 E San Fernando St.

“If you see a homeless person, ask if they have a cell phone,” said Andrea Urton, CEO of HomeFirst. “If they say they do not, let them use your cell phone to call the hotline and sanitize your phone afterward.”

If you are a youth under 24, the Bill Wilson Center has a drop-in center at 693 South 2nd Street that offers meals, showers, laundry and help finding shelter.

What information do I need to provide? What forms will I need to fill out? Will sharing this info affect my immigration status?

The assessment that the outreach worker will give you is called the Vulnerability Index – Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool, or VI-SPDAT. It will ask for your birthday, social security number, where you are currently sleeping, history of homelessness, health history and financial situation. Information on the VI-SPDAT is not shared for immigration purposes, and no questions regarding immigration are asked.

How long will I be waiting for a housing unit?

The average length of a referral to a shelter bed or temporary place is 1-2 days. Some referrals are offered on the same day. For long-term housing, it depends on your personal situation, and how vulnerable you are, as determined by your VI-SPDAT score. For some in a Rapid Rehousing program, the process can take a few months, while for others it can take several years.

What if I do not feel comfortable staying in a shelter because of trauma/mental health reasons? Is there a place I can go to find a private space, such as a hotel room?

Urton’s advice is to ask for case management, which will help develop a plan and find housing.

“I would really encourage people with my whole heart, follow through with the shelter referral,” Urton said. “Even if it’s not the motel you want, take the shelter referral. And when you get to the shelter, request case management from the provider and say, ‘I need to find housing. Help me develop a housing plan.’ We will do our best to find somebody to help you.”

What is the process of finding housing, such as an apartment? How do I qualify, and how long will the process take?

After calling the Santa Clara County homeless hotline (408) 278-6420, you will be referred to a program or placed on a waitlist to help you find housing. The program you are referred to and the time this process takes depends on your personal situation.

What if I don’t have a source of transportation to get to places?

The hotline services will provide you a ride. You can also contact HomeFirst’s outreach team at (408) 510-7600 to schedule a time for a ride.

I would like to live in one of the COVID hotels. Walk me through the process of finding a room there.

These hotels are offered for homeless individuals who are at risk for COVID-19 (elderly, people with a certain number of underlying health conditions, etc.). The first step to see if you qualify is to call the Santa Clara County homeless hotline (408) 278-6420.

Where can I find help such as a hot meal while I wait to hear back?

In downtown San Jose, CityTeam provides breakfast from 6:30 a.m. to 7 a.m. and dinner from 5 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. on weekdays. It offers breakfast from 8:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. and dinner from 5 p.m.-5:45 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. The location is 1174 Old Bayshore Hwy in San Jose.

In East San Jose, Loaves & Fishes serves hot meals from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at 408 Eastside Neighborhood Center every weekday.

In South San Jose, Loaves & Fishes serves hot meals from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at St. Maria Goretti Church on Wednesdays and Fridays.

In North San Jose, Loaves & Fishes serves hot meals from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

In West San Jose and Cupertino, West Valley Community Services has a food pantry open 10am-12pm and 2pm-4pm. There is also a mobile food pantry, and you can find times and locations here.

The Second Harvest Food Bank which is located at 750 Curtner Avenue in San Jose, provides groceries.

A list of more resources for shelters, rental assistance, meals, health programs, job training and programs for veterans and youth can be found here.

Contact Patricia Wei at [email protected]

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