San Jose homeless hotel full on first day
Bea Ramos, vice president of HomeFirst's emergency housing division, San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan and Rosalynn Hughey, the city's acting housing director, at the grand opening of the Arena Hotel on Sept. 28, 2023. Photo By Ben Irwin.

    The newly renovated Arena Hotel in San Jose has reopened to help some of the city’s most vulnerable residents, and it’s already turned on the no vacancy sign.

    The 90-room hotel on The Alameda about two miles from Santa Clara University is one of five Project Homekey sites designed to provide interim housing for homeless people. The repurposed property is a low-barrier shelter—not requiring sobriety. Most of the rooms are for single adults. There are 10 rooms for double occupancy and pets are welcome. The long-term plan calls for knocking down the building to construct up to 200 permanent affordable apartments.

    The Arena Hotel shelter has 90 rooms, 10 of which can house two residents. Depicted here is an ADA unit, larger than most rooms in the shelter. Photo by Ben Irwin.

    The $46-million interim housing project, which opened today, is funded through Measure E and California’s Project Homekey. The city received $125.5 million from the state.

    HomeFirst will provide mental health and supportive services that include case managers, clinicians, supervision and resident assistants. Bea Ramos, HomeFirst’s emergency housing division vice president, said solving homelessness requires more than just a bed.

    “We’ve found a really good formula with our interim housing services,” Ramos told San José Spotlight.

    Keisha Pagan, a resident at the Arena Hotel, lauded the humaneness and availability of HomeFirst’s staff and said her case worker has given her the leniency and trust to improve her life.

    “I never would have had my head together to take the steps that I needed to be involved in the program,” Pagan said. “It does work if you’re willing to take the steps.”

    San Jose policymakers have touted efforts to convert motels into homeless housing and quick-build housing models as solutions to homelessness. But progress remains slow—with only SureStay Motel and the Arena Hotel coming online.

    The county’s point-in-time count found that homelessness has decreased by 4.7% over the last year in San Jose, bringing the number to approximately 6,340 homeless residents—down by about 300 people. City officials attribute the downward trend to the opening of more affordable housing and temporary shelters.

    The hotel’s conversion has been in the works since around 2021. Other funded projects include the 61-bed Pavillion Inn and the 72-bed Pacific Motor Inn, which have yet to open.

    “We know what the solution is. It’s right here. It’s working,” San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan said. “It’s building up our supply of safe, decent, dignified housing for every single person living outdoors today. And when the shelter and housing is available, we need to require that people come indoors.”

    The case of Martin v. Boise, which began in 2009 and was resolved in 2019, found that governments cannot criminalize homelessness when they don’t have enough shelter space available or without first providing housing or shelter to homeless people.

    Rosalynn Hughey, San Jose’s acting housing director, said the referrals that filled the Arena Hotel rooms to capacity came from city-funded outreach teams. San Jose’s shelters are generally at full capacity with long wait lists, and the San Jose City Council recently questioned if continuing to funnel $6 million a year into outreach is a wise investment without available shelter.

    “This greatly simplifies and speeds up the process for referrals to this project and to others,” Hughey said. “We want places for our neighbors … and to help get them on a path forward for upward mobility.”

    Contact Ben at [email protected] or follow @B1rwin on X, formerly known as Twitter. 

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