San Jose looks to cut costs at homeless housing sites
San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan at the opening of a temporary housing site for homeless residents in a San Jose Police Department parking lot in April 2023. File photo.

San Jose leaders are looking to cut costs while continuing to fund temporary housing solutions, a main approach of the mayor’s plan to solve homelessness.

City officials are proposing several detailed recommendations to overhaul San Jose’s interim housing programs while simultaneously trimming costs, including eliminating private security during the daytime. The San Jose City Council is expected to weigh in on Oct. 24, as well as decide whether to allocate $10 million split between three operators to fund ongoing services for six months.

Ragan Henninger, deputy director of San Jose’s housing department, told San José Spotlight there are eight recommendations, including eliminating length of stay limitations, creating a community council of residents and improving access to health care. The suggestions stem from a report by Homebase, a San Francisco-based public policy nonprofit, that focuses on the financial stability of San Jose’s interim housing program.

One cost-cutting recommendation is to eliminate private security during the daytime, despite people surveyed at the sites saying security is a top priority.

Emilie Thorburn Quihuis, a homelessness prevention case manager at the advocacy nonprofit Sacred Heart Community Service, said any reductions in workers or funding means a reduction in safety. This could snowball into more recidivism and a reduction in employee safety, eventually leading to turnover, she said, and cutting essential services will only prolong the issue.

“In the shelter, there’s something called ‘frequent fliers,’ people coming back every time because they weren’t getting enough help,” Thorburn Quihuis told San José Spotlight. “From a staff perspective, when staff and available client services are cut, the remaining staff suffer … They’re going to experience more burnout, they’re not going to meet residents’ needs properly.”

The proposed cuts come after city officials declared a homelessness emergency this month to fast-track building housing options for more than 4,400 unsheltered homeless people in San Jose. More than 200 people are waiting to get placed in a shelter, Henninger said.

The $10 million will be allocated to three nonprofit homelessness service providers from next January to June—with $6.2 million going to HomeFirst for four housing sites, $1.8 million to LifeMoves for one housing site and $1.9 million to People Assisting the Homeless, or PATH, for one site. Henninger said these would be reductions in funding—the two primary costs for operators are onsite workers providing social services and private security.

“That’s a delicate balance … we need to be careful about reducing staff because it’s the onsite supportive staff that get us to those outcomes and support the individuals who are living there,” Henninger told San José Spotlight. “We’re (also) balancing making our clients feel safe with this directive to reduce costs.”

City officials are recommending resident advocates replace hired guards during the day as a cheaper alternative and to feel less like “policing,” according to the report. Sites would still have one private security guard working the graveyard shift.

“We’ve never experienced any increases in calls for service in the areas and sites that we operate, and we’ve demonstrated that we operate the sites quite safely,” Henninger said. “The site(s) would still have controlled access, still have the same protocols about visitors checking in and out.”

The report shows HomeFirst spent $1.3 million on private security last year at its four interim housing sites. The proposed change is projected to save more than $300,000 in security costs annually.

HomeFirst CEO Andrea Urton said the proposed security practices are already in place at the 78-bed Monterey Bernal site the nonprofit operates, which is producing positive results.

“We have seasoned staff who are in the (security) booth during the day … it’s just not an actual security guard. That’s going to save quite a bit of money,” Urton told San José Spotlight. “We have to be really careful with the money that we’re given.”

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

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