When homeless and at-risk youth needed a place to shower, find a meal or get support in San Jose, they headed to StandUp For Kids for the past five years.
But the program’s outreach center, The Village, will soon lose its home in downtown San Jose.
Leaders of the nonprofit, currently housed at 25 E. Hedding St., announced Wednesday that they have until Nov. 30 to find a new location, after their landlord would not renew the lease and denied an extension through the holidays.
“This really is our home for our kids, that’s why this is so devastating to us,” Executive Director Michele Huntzinger told San José Spotlight. “We’ve lost our home… we’re homeless.”
On average, Huntzinger said, The Village serves 100 kids every week, often seeing new faces each time. The group has touched the lives of around 500 youth since it opened in 2014 and serves more than 2,000 meals a year.
The news of the move comes just weeks before National Homeless Youth Awareness Month and StandUp For Kids’ annual charity event on Nov. 2, which helps prepare for the winter months by sponsoring new supplies like tents, sleeping bags, tarps, and hand warmers.
Initially planned as a celebration, the event’s donations will now mean a lot more to both the staff and youth.
“We’re celebrating our five-year anniversary, and that’s huge for us because we’re an all-volunteer organization and we had to raise money to pay rent,” Huntzinger said. “Every time we open that door, I feel we’re being successful.”
The fact that they wouldn’t be able to open that door anymore came as a sudden shock. Huntzinger said the landlord had initially told her he’d renew the lease, but a termination letter was later sent to the nonprofit’s national office in Georgia.
The landlord, Robert Foster, told San José Spotlight on Friday that because Huntzinger is a volunteer, she wasn’t privy to discussions he had with the national office. While he would not disclose any additional information on the lease, he said he would “continue to support StandUp For Kids.”
“It’s a wonderful organization,” said Foster, who bought the property last year. “We strongly support them and will continue to support them.” It’s unclear what Foster plans to do with the site or if he has a new tenant lined up.
But this “support” is news to Huntzinger, who said Foster has never donated nor volunteered at the center.
Despite losing its Silicon Valley home, StandUp for Kids, which is a national organization with 17 other locations including San Diego, Seattle and Houston, won’t go away. “While we may not have a center, StandUp For Kids is still here,” Huntzinger said. “We still do street outreach and we still do one-on-one mentoring. This is just one part of our program that has a little wrench in it right now.”
Now, Huntzinger said, her ultimate goal is finding a new place for The Village. Even with rising costs in downtown San Jose, she’s remaining hopeful.
“I don’t have control on being able to find a place – that’s the part that scares me,” Huntzinger said. “But I really hope and really think the community is going to help us. If we had more time, we’d have more options.”