San Jose opens homeless housing site in police parking lot
LifeMoves CEO Aubrey Merriman applauded interim housing efforts and highlighted helping homeless residents gain access to permanent housing on April 19, 2023. Others in attendance included San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan, former San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and housing nonprofit leaders and advocates. Photo by Loan-Anh Pham.

    Dozens of homeless residents will be able to get off the streets, as new interim housing opens near the doorstep of the San Jose Police Department.

    The Guadalupe Emergency Interim Housing site, located on a former SJPD parking lot, opened Wednesday. Housing advocates and elected officials said it’s the latest project in the city’s attempt to tackle the growing homelessness crisis.

    “We understand that these units may be temporary, but our collective progress isn’t,” LifeMoves CEO Aubrey Merriman said. “Our unhoused neighbors here will have the ability to access a safe and stable environment, supports and the resources that will help them get back on their feet and chart their courses to more permanent and stable housing.”

    The Guadalupe Emergency Interim Housing site will house 96 homeless residents. It features a communal kitchen, laundry room and case management office. Photo by Loan-Anh Pham.

    The project took a year and a half to complete at a cost of nearly $17 million. The San Jose City Council unanimously approved it in October 2021 and broke ground last February. Half of its residents will be from San Jose Bridge, a city program that hires unhoused residents to pick up trash in neighborhoods. Originally slated to house 76 residents, the final project can house 96 residents and includes a laundry room, communal kitchen and case management office. LifeMoves will provide on-site services.

    Mayor Matt Mahan said prioritizing interim housing leads to employment and permanent housing opportunities. Another interim housing project at Branham Lane and Monterey Road broke ground this month and is expected to support hundreds of homeless residents. But the city is far from its goal to construct 1,000 interim homes by the end of 2023.

    “These communities work,” Mahan said. “They don’t simply get somebody off the streets and then have them just stuck in that unit. They are really a pathway to something better.”

    Carlos Jacobo said he’ll be moving to the site after experiencing homelessness and losing his family during the COVID-19 pandemic. Jacobo sat underneath a patio umbrella, looking out at the place he would call home in less than a week. He said he plans to stay for at least a year and has worked with case managers for the past six months.

    “Because I’m on disability, they were kind of taking care of me anyway… I had nowhere to go,” Jacobo, 47, told San José Spotlight. “(LifeMoves is) helping me so that I can become independent, have my own job, get my own place.”

    Carlos Jacobo, 47, said he’s looking forward to moving into one of the 96 units available. He plans to stay at least a year while working to get a job and secure housing on his own. Photo by Loan-Anh Pham.

    Lingering concerns 

    Homeless advocates have raised eyebrows at the site’s proximity to the police department. Advocate Robert Aguirre said the location can make some residents, who face regular harassment or dangerous conditions on the streets, feel safe. But for others, previous tense interactions with police can deter them from seeking housing or resources at the site, he added.

    “It’s going to be limited to a certain kind of people that are going to feel comfortable being there,” Aguirre told San José Spotlight. “At the same time, it also eliminates places for some people to be able to go if they feel fearful of the police.”

    Aguirre said the homeless community needs to have a voice, potentially through city and county commissions helmed by residents themselves. He said interim housing projects need to ensure people have freedom. There have been past concerns with residents being separated from their loved ones and pets to secure housing, he added.

    Gabriela Gabrian, the executive member of Destination: Home’s Lived Experience Advisory Board, said the Guadalupe project took the voices of homeless residents into account. Gabrian said homeless residents suggested community guidelines and even helped design the site to incorporate more color.

    “I’m hoping that we’re going to multiply and allow all (individuals) to be lived experience members,” Gabrian told San José Spotlight. “Everyone has an experience that can benefit others.”

    Merriman said the intention is to support the unhoused community and uphold residents’ sense of privacy and community. While the location is close to SJPD, that doesn’t mean the homes are affiliated with police, he added.

    “We’re at a level of crisis (where) the city needed to positively exploit any available parcel of land,” Merriman told San José Spotlight. “While there will be structure here, this isn’t a military state, right? We want to make sure that we are operating in a way that’s safest for the entire community of people living here.”

    Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

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