A woman stands outside in front of cars with her young son
Juanita Campa and her autistic son have been homeless since September. She has been frustrated by the lack of help from the city. Photo by Joyce Chu.

Homeless advocates holding signs that said “Karen” and “Sweep Baby Sweep” disrupted two San Jose officials at a news conference calling for the city to audit its spending on homeless services.

Councilmembers Bien Doan and Arjun Batra on Thursday called for an audit of how much San Jose is spending on supportive services, removing encampments, temporary housing sites and the city’s contracts with homeless service providers. They said having a clear picture of the city’s spending will help consolidate duplicate efforts and show if work is divided appropriately between San Jose, Santa Clara County and the state.

Batra pleaded with the protestors, some who are unhoused and others who were formerly homeless, to work with the city and to support their call for a city audit.

“We are only here to ask that our future programs be more effective and the outputs be better known,”  Batra said. “We can no longer operate in silos or rely on fragmented efforts. We need a unified, strategic approach that maximizes our collective impact and this comprehensive audit will provide us that opportunity.”

Juanita Campa and her family, who have a special needs son, have been homeless since September, she told San José Spotlight. She cleans houses and her husband works in construction, but they don’t make enough money to afford rent. They are crammed together in a small tent on the weeks they can’t afford a hotel room.

“(The councilmembers) don’t got to worry about where they’re going to stay tonight,” Campa told San José Spotlight. “Staying (on the streets) is so horrible.”

Campa has shown up to San Jose City Council meetings and shared her struggles on the podium. She’s reached out to Doan numerous times since she’s been homeless, but said she’s never received a response.

San Jose Councilmember Bien Doan spoke to residents about the need for a city audit to understand how funding is spent on homeless services and programs. Photo by Joyce Chu.

Doan and Batra believe an audit is necessary for transparency in how money is being used. San Jose spent more than $300 million on homeless supportive services between 2020 to 2023, according to a report released by the California State Auditor in April. About $120 million came from state and federal funding. However, state auditors found that the city could not identify all of its expenditures nor does it adequately measure the effectiveness of its systems.

That money went toward numerous temporary housing projects and support services, such as $50 million from the state to build 204 temporary prefabricated homes and $125.5 million through Project Homekey on temporary and permanent housing.

The city also lacks enough temporary and permanent housing to keep up with the demand, and auditors recommended city officials collect data on temporary housing immediately — which the audit found missing.

San Jose has about 6,340 unhoused residents, according to last year’s point-in-time count, though officials and advocates said the tally is often an undercount.

“Support what we are asking for and we will have better outcomes,” Batra told the homelessness advocates as he urged them to meet with him.

Mayor Matt Mahan concurred with the councilmembers’ request for a city audit. He said his budget requires the city manager to create a public dashboard that shows where the money has been spent and the impact it created.

“If we don’t get government laser focused on cost-effectively getting people out of unmanaged encampments and connected to services, we will continue to see spending rise while results are lacking,” Mahan told San José Spotlight.

For Campa a solution couldn’t come soon enough. After nearly nine months of worrying how she would make it through the day, she received a call from nonprofit homeless service provider HomeFirst informing her they will put her family in a hotel for three months — starting today.

“It took forever, but we’re finally in there,” Campa said. “My son doesn’t have a lot of space to play…but at least I don’t have to go back (on the streets).”

Contact Joyce Chu at [email protected] or @joyce_speaks on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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