The exterior of the South Hall of the convention center in San Jose
Two San Jose councilmembers see large open space homeless shelters, like South Hall in San Jose which served as an emergency shelter during the pandemic, as viable solutions. File photo.

Spurred by a state audit that found San Jose spent more than $300 million on homelessness response, two officials want the city to conduct its own audit of how much is being spent on homeless services and programs.

Councilmembers Bien Doan and Arjun Batra are hoping the information will give them a clearer picture of how the money is being spent so the city can consolidate any duplicate efforts.

Batra wants to know if the city is dividing the work appropriately between the city, Santa Clara County and state.

“To us the audit is really to shine light on … where the money has gone and what the outcomes are,” Batra told San José Spotlight.

He wants the audit to look at several categories, including how much is being spent on removing encampments, supportive services, temporary housing sites and the contracts San Jose has with homeless service providers.

In light of the mayor’s request to move all homeless individuals out of the waterways, the councilmembers also want City Manager Jennifer Maguire to provide costs estimates for their proposal for massive assembly room-style homeless shelters. While their proposal — called SJ LUV or Lifting Up Lives — was unanimously rejected at a Rules and Open Government Committee meeting in March, Batra said the city manager was directed to evaluate all options for building shelters, including this one. She will report her findings to the full San Jose City Council.

“We need to really devise a comprehensive plan to improve the effectiveness of the dollars spent,” Batra said. “Doing more of the same is not the answer.”

Doan said at the May 14 council meeting that homelessness has been discussed for 25 years and nothing ever changes.

“The audit we are recommending evaluates our internal structure and practices and aims to find ways to improve our ability to help our unsheltered residents, be more accountable and efficient with taxpayer dollars, and improve our response times to quality of life issues,” he told San José Spotlight.

The California State Auditor in April found the city could not identify all of its expenditures on homeless support, 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 from the state through Project Homekey on temporary and permanent housing.

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

Auditors gave San Jose until September to formulate a succinct plan on how it will address homelessness and begin publicly reporting spending data, according to an audit requested by a local legislator.

Contact Joyce Chu at [email protected] or @joyce_speaks on Twitter.

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