San Jose council review: Homeless report, mental health response
The San Jose City Council chambers during the March 29 meeting. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    Homelessness, mental health response, cost-saving recommendations and fee decreases to incentivize commercial development were the hot topics at Tuesday’s San Jose City Council meeting. Here’s the weekly breakdown:

    Annual Homeless Report

    Despite the hardships exacerbated by COVID-19, the city’s housing department said it has made notable progress on San Jose’s 2020-2025 plan to end homelessness.

    In the past fiscal year, the city sheltered 1,755 unhoused individuals in emergency shelters, 8,535 in temporary housing and 2,926 were permanently housed—bringing the city 30% closer to housing 20,000 individuals though supportive housing.

    San Jose also doled out $36 million in rent relief to 15,000 households that brought the city 63% closer to its expansion of homelessness prevention systems and other early interventions to serve 2,500 people per year.

    Three new interim housing sites opened, adding 326 beds, which puts the city at 18% of its goal to double temporary housing and shelter capacity.

    The city also achieved a 30% reduction in the annual inflow of people becoming homeless.

    Officials said part of the success is due to a one-time infusion of $42 million from state and federal programs.

    “The challenge now is, how do we keep doing this work, iterating and scaling it (without those one-time funds)?” said Ragan Henninger, deputy director of the housing department.

    San Jose faced a reckoning in 2019 when the number of homeless people counted in the city jumped 42% since 2017. The pandemic exacerbated those numbers and the biennial homelessness count that will be released July is expected to show another increase. And while the city made progress housing people, residents across the county are still falling into homelessness faster than they can be housed. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo called it the city’s biggest failure. 

    Downtown Crisis Response Program 

    San Jose is allocating $1.2 million to deploy a crisis team across the downtown core. The team will respond to unhoused individuals in mental health crises, and will be tasked to de-escalate situations and help individuals in need of mental health treatment and other immediate services.

    “While on the police force I saw and have seen how the lack of proper resources have allowed these conditions to worsen within our houseless population,” Councilmember Raul Peralez said. “Rather than be connected through proper care, most of our homeless individuals shuffle in and out of jail or through temporary holds (at local hospitals).”

    The program will be operated by nonprofit PATH (People Assisting the Homeless) and will work in tandem with the city’s housing department.

    Semi-annual audit recommendations

    Every six months, the city auditor makes a list of recommendations to improve the efficiency and delivery of city programs, in an effort to increase transparency and accountability and save money for the city.

    In the most recent report, the city auditor made 261 recommendations that could save San Jose $12.3 million. Many of these recommendations carried over from as early as 2018, however, with 16% totally implemented, 59% partly implemented and 27% not implemented at all. The revised target goal for many of the suggestions is this summer.

    The No. 1 cost-saving priority is to revise the San Jose Police Department’s policy for accrued paid time off to reduce the city’s liability—a priority since 2018. Paid time off balances grew significantly since the last audit—from $13 million to $23.5 million. The payout for excess paid time off also grew from $270,000 to $19.3 million in the last decade. The city auditor is recommending San Jose buy out 10% of employee balances, which would save $227,000 in future costs.

    The city auditor also made numerous recommendations for many city departments—the most for the Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services Department, along with the police department and the Planning, Building and Code Enforcement Department.

    Development fee decreases

    Despite protest from several affordable housing advocates, the City Council unanimously approved fee decreases for commercial developers. Those fees are used to support affordable housing solutions. Read more.

    Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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