A homeless encampment comprised of cars and RVs
A portion of a homeless encampment along Coyote Creek near Corie Court in San Jose is seen Monday, May 15, 2023, as city crews swept the camp and broke down homes and tents. Photo by Joseph Geha.

New year, new goals — and San Jose officials are trying again to resolve the city’s homeless crisis.

This week, the San Jose City Council unanimously approved its annual update of a five-year plan to end homelessness following a lengthy two- hour debate. The city will spend $50 million to subsidize affordable housing construction to bring 400 homes online, and $4.7 million to prevent 1,700 people from falling into homelessness through rent relief and other supportive services. The plan also includes using two public libraries as centralized hubs for homeless residents to connect with different services.

San Jose has roughly 6,300 homeless residents, 4,411 of whom live on city streets, according to data released last May — making up most of Santa Clara County’s homeless population.

The city has been able to decrease the population by 4.7% in a year unlike the rest of the county, which only decreased by 1.7%. San Jose’s approach in recent years has been to expand temporary housing sites, provide supportive services to prevent people from falling into homelessness and move people into permanent housing. The city aims to build on that.

This includes new approaches such as exploring the creation of safe sleeping spaces — a rebranding of sanctioned encampments — to provide an alternative for people living on the street to get services without having to wait for temporary or permanent housing to be built.

Mayor Matt Mahan has been a vocal proponent of such sites, despite previous city councils voting down the idea in 2021 and 2015.

“What is exciting about this (annual report) is that it shows a level of urgency and pragmatism that is warranted,” Mahan said. “We can’t wait years and years and years to build the perfect (solution), we’re gonna have to do things that are extremely scalable and cost effective… like piloting a safe sleeping site.”

The city also wants to host at least two job fairs throughout the year to help 250 homeless residents find work. San Jose officials are also exploring partnerships to prevent those recently incarcerated from falling into homelessness.

San Jose’s parks, recreation and neighborhood services department is looking at ways to expand clean up efforts around encampments — especially as it relates to human waste — and improve encampment management. However, specific plans are still being worked out.

While San Jose is spending millions of dollars to build permanent affordable housing and prevent homelessness — millions more are expected to go to temporary housing. Costs could reach up to $70 million annually by 2028-29 to operate existing and planned sites.

Mahan believes temporary housing is the chief reason homeless numbers have decreased. Since 2020, 493 temporary homes have been built and more than 8,800 people have been rehoused through the supportive housing system, which includes interim housing.

The mayor wants to build 1,000 temporary homes, and while the goal has been delayed, several projects are underway.

Rue Ferrari, the city’s oldest temporary housing site, is expanding to add 134 beds. San Jose won support from VTA to build 200 temporary homes at the Cerone yard in North San Jose. San Jose is also expanding its safe parking sites to provide services for people living in RVs and cars. A site opened last year at VTA’s Santa Teresa station and the city is leasing a vacant lot at 1300 Berryessa Road to open later this year.

The city is also planning to develop two additional temporary housing locations: one at a privately owned two-acre site on Via Del Oro Street and San Ignacio Avenue in District 10, and another two-acre site on Cherry Avenue owned by Valley Water near the Guadalupe River and Almaden Shopping Center.

Homeless advocate Shaun Cartwright said the city’s multi-pronged approach is missing a critical element: nonprofits that are best equipped to provide supportive services.

Several homeless advocates and even some councilmembers have voiced concern over nonprofit service provider HomeFirst’s performance and allegations of racial profiling against workers. Despite concerns, San Jose has continued to approve multi-million dollars’ worth of contracts because there are few alternatives.

“It just seems that the city in particular is very comfortable with the status quo,” Cartwright told San José Spotlight. “It seems very insincere to me to believe that anything is going to change, if nothing changes.”

Contact Jana at [email protected] or follow @Jana_Kadah on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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