San Jose homeless motel changes hands—again
Tenants of SureStay Hotel, an interim housing site for homeless residents, protested unsafe living conditions on July 18, 2023. Photo by Annalise Freimarck.

    When it comes to caring for San Jose’s most vulnerable homeless residents at a motel-turned-housing site, it seems no one can get it right.

    The SureStay Motel, which offers temporary housing and services to homeless seniors, is changing service providers for the third time in two years. HomeFirst will start providing food, case management and security on Oct. 1, taking the reins from LifeMoves, another nonprofit service provider who stepped in for Abode Services last October.

    SureStay is one of San Jose’s first repurposed hotel projects purchased with nearly $12 million of Project Homekey dollars. The city originally handled operations while homeless service providers took care of case management and other resources.

    After multiple complaints of dirty water pouring out of faucets, mold and holes in the ceiling, San Jose removed itself and Abode from management in October 2022, noting management of the site was not in the city’s “wheelhouse.”

    The city decided to transfer the site to the Santa Clara County Housing Authority and Jamboree Housing Corporation to take over day-to-day services. LifeMoves came onboard to handle supportive services.

    The property is still not officially under the housing authority, though officials anticipate acquiring the motel by the end of this year without Jamboree.

    City and LifeMoves officials said HomeFirst will be the new service provider because the LifeMoves contract ended. Representatives would not elaborate on why the contract was not renewed, but expressed that LifeMoves was just meant to aid in the transition from the city to the housing authority.

    “HomeFirst has the capacity and experience to handle the transition of SureStay from the city to the housing authority when our contract with LifeMoves ends on Sept. 30,” Jeff Scott, housing department spokesperson, told San José Spotlight.

    Homeless advocates and site residents, however, believe HomeFirst is coming in because LifeMoves couldn’t properly provide services.

    SureStay resident Cheryl Fleming said LifeMoves failed to do wellness checks and in some instances, people who died were only discovered because of the smell. In February, 63-year-old SureStay resident Lavelle Moore died. His body was found a week later, according to residents at the site. The county medical examiner confirmed Moore died from natural causes, though could not confirm the time of death before it was reported.

    “They had people dying and they weren’t doing room checks,” Fleming told San José Spotlight. “They would do wellness checks sometimes, but it wasn’t enough.”

    Fleming said her friend Mark died last month and it took staff a couple days to realize it. He had come back from the hospital just a few days before after receiving chemotherapy.

    “There are a lot of good people that passed on and it didn’t have to be that way,” Fleming said.

    When asked about the deaths, LifeMoves representatives directed San José Spotlight to the city. Scott said the city is aware of one death that occurred in February.

    “Anything we say would be speculation because we are not medical experts,” he said. “We defer to the coroner’s office.”

    Shaunn Cartwright, a homeless advocate who frequents the motel, described the treatment of residents as “intentionally cruel.”

    “Let’s say you and I are friends, and you were feeling sick today, I was not allowed to pick up food for you from downstairs,” Cartwright told San José Spotlight. “Even after brain surgery you would have to pick up your own food and they (the staff) would not bring your food to your room.”

    Cartwright said an older man injured his ankle after slipping in the shower because there were no handicap bars, despite repeated requests to install them.

    In the last few months, residents including Fleming made 19 complaints to the city’s Planning, Building and Code Enforcement Department about holes underneath and around the motel staircase, unstable handrails and lack of handicap bars in bathrooms and showers.

    There have been efforts to bring in an exterminator and plans for construction to deal with termite damage, mold and rotten wood threatening the structural integrity of the staircase, Cartwright said. Neither the city nor the housing authority elaborated on the details of repairs or construction.

    Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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