Sandoval: New hopes for a new year
Ludia and Dwon-ya, residents of Evans Lane interim housing site for families experiencing homelessness, look forward to new possibilities in 2022. Photo courtesy of Gabrielle Jablonski of PATH.

    In the early hours of Jan. 19-20, hundreds of service providers—including our PATH outreach teams—and volunteers will be deployed across Santa Clara County to find and conduct a by-person count of all observed individuals experiencing homelessness.

    The biannual Point-in-Time Count, which was paused last year due to COVID-related risks, will resume in the new year. The count proves an essential source of data for local governments and housing providers to better understand who is experiencing homelessness and inform federal funding allocations based on need.  I know many providers are nervously eager for information to evaluate our ongoing strategies to help our communities recover from housing-related crises.

    While we have a lot to learn about those experiencing homelessness, including the impacts of COVID on the unhoused population, I know our community is positioned and ready to use these results for immediate and long term good in our fight to end homelessness. These four opportunities to make a large impact on homelessness give me hope moving into the new year.

    Expanded outreach connections

    Last month, the San Jose City Council approved $1.2 million in American Rescue Plan funds for organizations who provide outreach and behavioral health services to people experiencing homelessness in downtown San Jose. As a partial recipient of these funds, PATH plans to expand our outreach teams to focus on strategic downtown locations, expand after hours coverage opportunities and maximize our opportunities to connect with people experiencing homelessness downtown.

    Our expanded teams will play an essential role in connecting unhoused individuals to the myriad of housing opportunities that will become available in the new year. We will continue to route candidates to eligible housing opportunities, problem-solve barriers to housing access and celebrate move-ins for the hundreds of people we anticipate will find housing in the next year alone.

    Immediate housing solutions through Project Homekey

    Project Roomkey was born out of necessity during the pandemic. Hotel rooms converted into immediate shelters for people who lacked shelter in place options.

    As a result, the state released a new funding source—Project HomeKey—which provided funding to purchase and rehabilitate hotels, motels and vacant apartments buildings for continued interim or permanent housing operations. In the past year, these funds have already successfully created 120 unique permanent homes for over 8,000 individuals in need of safe shelter options.

    Given the success of the first round of funding, the state has released an additional $1.4 billion across the state to continue conversion efforts. The Bay Area has been allocated $200 million to quickly operate immediate housing options for people escaping the risks of living outdoors during a pandemic.

    Santa Clara County has identified nine opportunities to obtain land to convert into immediate homes for people experiencing homelessness—five of which would operate in San Jose. These combined opportunities will create over 800 homes. The remarkable thing is these homes won’t take years to develop—through strategically targeting motels, many of these homes will be immediately available for the thousands of people who need a safe place to sleep off the street tonight.

    Given the fact we know there were 7,922 unsheltered individuals experiencing homelessness in Santa Clara County on any given night, that gives our county tangible tools to immediately shelter 10% of the county’s current homeless population indoors by the end of the year. This should be something the entire county could get behind as a whole—when there are affordable homes available, homelessness ends. Housing ends homelessness.

    Hundreds of new affordable rental homes

    Measure A has made it possible for nearly 3,000 new homes to be available to Santa Clara County residents with the lowest incomes. Many developers have been spending the past five years designing and constructing buildings that will use these funds to accomplish our mission of ending homelessness.

    PATH teams are preparing for two new apartment communities to open for PATH residents in mid-2022. The Vela Apartments, an Affirmed Housing community where PATH will deliver services, will create 87 new affordable homes—including some with medium-term and long-term rental subsidies. PATH Ventures’ building the Villas at 4th Street creates another 93 homes of supportive housing for chronically homeless older adults 55+. All new residents will pay an affordable rent based on income and receive wrap-around supportive services, funded by Measure A, to aid in the transition to their new homes.

    Launching coordinated efforts to end family homelessness 

    Having opened our own family shelter this year, I’ve heard stories of many parents balancing impossible decisions about their family’s care while experiencing homelessness. In addition to worrying about a safe place for their children to sleep, they are working full-time jobs, overseeing homework, tending to their children’s emotional needs—all while trying to find an affordable home in an increasingly unaffordable community.

    This fall, Destination: Home brought key stakeholders together to launch their coordinated initiative to end family homelessness across the county by 2025. Through both preventative, short-term and long-term interventions, Santa Clara County can achieve functional zero—meaning all the current homeless families are housed, and there are enough available resources annually to aid families who are newly entering into homelessness.

    Dozens of organizations, including PATH, have signed on to support this effort to end the horrors of homelessness from families. In a matter of three short years, we believe our county will be a place where no children experience homelessness.

    A few months ago, I shared that I thought Silicon Valley was positioned to make real life change in ending homelessness in our community. Today, I am looking forward at 2022 with expanded services, innovative housing developments and more housing coming on-line in the new year. There may be more unseen challenges ahead, but I know we are getting closer to ending homelessness for individuals, families and communities.

    San José Spotlight columnist Laura Sandoval is a regional director at PATH San Jose, a homeless services and housing development agency. She is also a licensed clinical social worker with over a decade of experience. Her columns appear every fourth Monday of the month. Contact Laura at [email protected]

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