San Jose is home to the nation’s second LGBTQ homeless shelter
Quinn Phan, a staff member of New Haven Inn, and Kiabet Vivanco, a resident, sit on a sofa at the LGBTQ+ homeless shelter in San Jose on June 3. Photo by Kyle Martin,

Two months ago Kiabet Vivanco found refuge at San Jose’s New Haven Inn — a county-funded supportive home that’s now the nation’s second shelter for homeless and at-risk LGBTQ+ residents. Now, safe and sober, the 34-year-old landed a job and she’s able to see her three kids.

“My plan is to keep my life like that,” said Vivanco, a domestic violence survivor and former addict. “It was my first time being homeless, and I’m ready for it to be my last time.”

The New Haven Inn, funded by the county of Santa Clara and operated by local homeless advocacy nonprofit, LifeMoves, houses up to 20 adults with a bed, food, storage space and supportive services such as therapy, employment assistance, medication assistance, among other things.

It’s one of just two shelters of its kind — the other LGBTQ+ specialty emergency shelter is Jazzie’s Place in San Francisco. The New Haven Inn is located near downtown San Jose, but officials asked to keep its location confidential for the safety of residents.

Chris Miller, 45, said he was homeless on-and-off for about 20 years before he landed a stay at the shelter in January.

“It’s the best,” Miller said. “Other shelters are just that — they’re shelters. But this is home.”

Through the New Haven Inn’s services and support, he secured a Section 8 housing voucher in Morgan Hill, and will move into his own home next month. “I feel safe, I feel secure, I feel supported and even loved,” Miller said. “The last time I felt like I had that — it’s been years.”

Supervisor Cindy Chavez, who has been one of several local leaders advocating for the county’s LGBTQ residents, led a media tour of the New Haven Inn Monday. She and Supervisor Dave Cortese in 2017 held special hearings to gauge the needs of the county’s LGBTQ residents.

“They told us that they felt safer on our streets than they did at some of our regular shelters,” Chavez said in a statement.

In late 2018, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved funding for the New Haven Inn to offer emergency housing specifically to the county’s roughly 30-percent of homeless people who identify as LGBTQ+. It costs about $560,000 to operate the shelter, according to LifeMoves CEO Bruce Ives, and the county covers about $360,000. He said the remaining $200,000 was funded through donors and philanthropies.

“Our goal is to provide a safe and supportive space for [people] to get back on their feet and back to stable housing,” Ives said on Monday. “And the community is really supportive of each other.”

LifeMoves took over operations of the New Haven Inn in December, and the institution has served about 47 people since then, according to Program Director Karissa Kim. She said the staff’s mission is to ensure people feel comfortable and safe — regardless of their sexual orientation.

“You come in, you say your name, your pronouns, and that’s all with us,” she said. “It’s like an immediate sense of community from peer to peer.”

And that’s why Quinn Phan, a staff member at the shelter who uses non-gender specific pronouns, said they like being there.

“I really wish it had existed when I was younger,” Phan said, adding that the shelter is a place of protection where people can be themselves. “You don’t know how people are going to treat you outside, even in San Jose, in Silicon Valley, in California. It’s nice to not be questioned on basic aspects of your identity.”

Contact Kyle Martin at kylebmartin96@gmail.com or follow him @Kyle_Martin35 on Twitter.

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