San Jose leaders lobby for transparency in homeless spending
Homeless residents swept from a camp in the flight path of Mineta San Jose International Airport moved to the baseball field at the corner of Asbury and Irene streets at Columbus Park in San Jose. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

    San Jose officials want to make it easier for residents to track how the city is spending money on its growing homelessness crisis.

    Mayor Sam Liccardo, Vice Mayor Chappie Jones, Mayor-elect Matt Mahan and Councilmember David Cohen want to launch a webpage showing the city’s efforts in solving homelessness. The site would include where funding comes from, which services are being funded and how many people are being served. Officials also want the site to be updated routinely.

    The page would allow more transparency and accountability, which would in turn help increase public trust, officials said.

    Officials voted unanimously to approve the proposal at Wednesday’s Rules and Open Government Committee meeting with little discussion. It now moves to the full San Jose City Council for final approval. The webpage could launch by February, according to the city manager’s office.

    “I look forward to the public being able to track how funding for homelessness is utilized in the city,” Cohen said.

    The initiative comes as San Jose residents grow frustrated with the ongoing homeless crisis in the city—where at least 6,739 people are sleeping on the streets. Officials are investing in a number of long- and short-term initiatives, including building transitional and supportive housing, converting motel rooms into apartments and adding more affordable housing options.

    Some advocates are applauding the city’s efforts to increase transparency, but hope officials also include more information and data to hold service providers that contract with the city accountable.

    “It’s a wonderful idea, and it should have happened long ago,” Todd Langton, founder of The Coalition for the Unhoused in Silicon Valley, told San José Spotlight. “But I think it’s also extremely important to see how much money is going to (nonprofit) organizations and what they’re doing with that money.”

    While the city has seen some success in housing several hundred people and preventing thousands from falling into homelessness, residents remain unhappy over the efforts. Tents and makeshift structures along trails, waterways and sidewalks are still part of their neighborhoods.

    Officials want the webpage to highlight their investments—and results—to help the public better understand how San Jose is helping some of its most vulnerable residents. Policymakers point to the decreased number of unsheltered homeless people this year as an example. According to county data, the number of people living on the streets without any shelter in San Jose dropped from 5,117 in 2019 to 5,031 this year.

    The proposal is also part of the city’s efforts to defend itself against the state’s criticism of local cities wasting funding. In November, Gov. Gavin Newsom threatened to halt a $1 billion homelessness grant to cities including San Jose, citing the lack of accountability and calling for more aggressive strategies. State Sen. Dave Cortese last month also called for an audit on the city’s homeless spending on emergency housing programs and services, such as Project Homekey—the state’s multi-billion dollar grant program for homeless housing. San Jose has gotten roughly $125 million from the program.

    “Rather than waiting for state audits, press releases and public skirmishes, let’s affirmatively tell the public exactly how their dollars are being spent on homelessness, and what outcomes they’re getting,” a memo authored by the four policymakers reads. “It can only help all of us—as policymakers, implementers and advocates—to better allocate those dollars to get people off the street.”

    Robert Aguirre, a former unhoused resident turned advocate, also wants to see information on nonprofits who conduct homeless outreach, provide case management and run shelters.

    “If the webpage doesn’t dive deeper into how the money is being spent (by these organizations), it doesn’t really paint a good picture,” Aguirre told San José Spotlight. “This is like a magic show: they’re going to present you what they want you to see.”

    Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.

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