After months of delay, a safe parking site for homeless residents has opened at the Santa Teresa VTA light rail station in San Jose.
The parking lot opened Monday and provides 42 spaces for homeless people living in their vehicles, a slight decrease from the originally planned 45 spaces to allow for commuter cars. Four motorhomes and one bus were on-site at 10 a.m. today, with a few more expected later this afternoon.
Priority is given to those living in Districts 2 and 10, as well as RV dwellers living near Columbus Park. Each individual’s housing plan determines how long they can stay, said Kelly Hemphill, San Jose Housing Department division manager.
The safe parking site was slated to open in January, then April, but constructing fencing, solar panels and offices for case management created a lengthy delay.
Jose Cortez, 32, and his 65-year-old father of the same name lived in and near Columbus Park for about two years, since the elder Cortez lost his job and home during the pandemic.
“We don’t want any problems with the city and the people around here,” Cortez told San José Spotlight. “We just want to be in one place, safe. There are people using drugs. We don’t do anything wrong.”
The 115,000-square-foot VTA site is leased by the city and operated by LifeMoves, which provides interim housing and supportive services. LifeMoves has a $1.5 million contract with the city to provide supportive services through July 2024, Hemphill said. Water, handwashing stations and porta potties will be accessible at the safe parking site, and people can use their own generators for power, she told San José Spotlight. Mobile showers will be offered one to two times per week and garbage and recycling will be picked up weekly.
Sarah Fields, spokesperson for LifeMoves, said visitation to the site will be postponed for several weeks while the nonprofit spends time with each resident to gather information about their needs. Afterwards, residents may have a maximum of two visitors at a time who must provide identification. Overnight guests require a case manager’s permission.
Former Columbus Park RV dweller Jesus Bautista, 54, is looking forward to moving to the safe parking site after waiting more than six months.
“It will be safe and secure,” he told San José Spotlight. “I won’t have to move more places. I can stay awhile.”
Hemphill said there are more than 6,000 individuals experiencing homelessness in San Jose, of which 75% are unsheltered, including a growing population calling their vehicles home.
“As a housing department-funded program, our goal is always to transition someone experiencing homelessness to a safe, affordable, permanent situation,” Hemphill told San José Spotlight. “This is the first supportive parking program in San Jose solely targeting RV dwellers. The hope is to learn, enhance and expand throughout San Jose to provide more stable opportunities for individuals and families residing in RVs, cars and other vehicles.”
In the last year, San Jose’s overall homeless population decreased by 4.7%, or about 500 people. San Jose has roughly 4,411 homeless residents living on city streets, according to the latest data released in May.
Thousands remain homeless
On June 6, the San Jose City Council unanimously approved four projects focused on safe parking and housing. A safe parking site in North San Jose will provide more than 100 parking spots for RVs, and three interim housing sites will provide 300 beds.
“We need alternatives to our streets and creeks that don’t cost $1 million and take five years to build,” San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan told San José Spotlight.
District 10 Councilmember Arjun Batra said people are living in about 400 RVs in San Jose. He wants the site to be successful for its residents and the surrounding community. If food is needed, nonprofits will be contacted and if generators are needed, the city and program will try to help, he said.
“We want to move them into a safe place where they are able to comfortably live and rebuild their lives,” he told San José Spotlight, adding the program was developed through a neighborhood-led community advisory committee. “We want to provide them a place where they will have case management help and the things which will allow them to finally transition into permanent homes.”
Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected].