Morgan: Plenty to celebrate at Second Street Studios
First Community Housing's Second Street Studios in San Jose. File photo.

    In response Michael Eckhart’s column about Second Street Studios, as a fellow veteran I am grateful for Mike’s service and to be of service to him and all our residents at Second Street Studios. Mike and all of our residents have a voice, and we want to hear and learn how to better serve as a community.

    We respect the emotion and frustration Mike has expressed and we have always stood ready to hear our residents.

    Second Street Studios houses 150-plus individuals and households that were formerly homeless in San Jose. First Community Housing, as a nonprofit owner of this community, works with many partners, including Santa Clara County and Abode Services for resident and case management services, the Housing Authority of Santa Clara and the Housing Trust of Silicon Valley for rental and security deposit subsidy, and the John Stewart Co. for property management. This is key to supporting all households that have been living on the streets for years.

    More than 100 volunteers from Cisco, Silicon Valley Bank and other organizations helped residents as they moved and provided care packages, alongside our service providers and First Community Housing staff.

    Handing the first key to a formerly homeless resident was one of the best days of my professional life. There were many move-ins that day and a lot of emotions, mostly very positive.

    One of the residents said his first day of move-in was the first day he had been able to sleep fully in 13 years of homelessness. Another resident who was worried about sobriety issues thanked us because he was sure this secure service-enriched housing saved his life.

    Second Street Studios values the safety of all of residents and community. The site pays for 24-hour security. Due to our efforts, police/emergency calls have dropped from an average of 30 per month in 2019 to 16 per month in 2020.

    In addition, police calls are overstated because police are called for medical emergencies. Resident services and property management are working with residents to begin the Neighborhood Watch program.

    An Urban Farm has been operating by Valle Verde for more than one year. Residents are encouraged to help operate the farm, as well as take part in educational classes, which unfortunately have been temporarily curtailed because of COVID-19.

    Second Street Studios has a rich suite of medical, mental health and general services.  A medical clinic also has been operated on-site by Santa Clara County since opening, although hours have also been curtailed due to COVID-19.

    However, the county has scheduled free COVID-19 testing day for all residents. Mental health services are provided six days a week from Abode Service and a 24-hour hotline is available.

    Our treatment staff of five (clinicians and harm-reduction specialists) provide several individual counseling sessions weekly; more than 40 sessions are offered per week. Our wellness specialists offer 1-1 case management to at least 20 residents per week. And our resident services coordinators facilitate multiple activities in the building throughout the month.

    Additionally, our staff facilitate nine different groups weekly — non-mental health groups with topics on budgeting, housekeeping issues, living independently and mental health/harm-reduction groups such as Women’s Health, Seeking Shelter, and PTSD. The program offers nine social activities a month, such as movie club, cooking club, trivia night, arts and crafts, music and walking.

    The expectation for the program is that staff must meet with all residents at least one time a month, with several residents receiving multiple meetings with staff per month. Staff also provide outreach regularly to engage residents.

    Our studio units are sufficiently sized at 450 square feet, with full kitchens and bathrooms.

    The property’s turnover rate of 8% for the first six months is ahead of the 10% projected based on other permanent supportive housing properties around the country. Although some tenants have passed away because of poor health, we are grateful they were able to pass away in their homes instead of on the streets.

    We have always done our best to work very closely with the community, elected leadership, residents and advocates to be realistic and proactive on expectations. The dog park was a direct result of input from our residents and many of our policies are a product of agreements we formalized with the community to be good neighbors.

    We are not perfect and we will continue to do everything we can to be of service and improve our residents’ quality of life. We will continue to serve, and we love serving and learning how to do it better.

    We hope in the future San José Spotlight will help enable this dialog by letting us provide our point of view. Putting a spotlight on service needs accurately reflects our ongoing and very important work.

    There is always a lot to improve on, but housing 155 formerly unhoused in a safe program and rich environment, and ending roughly 1,000 years of homelessness, is something we should all celebrate.

    Geoffrey Morgan is CEO of First Community Housing.


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