Santa Clara County could spend $25 million on prefab homeless shelters
The LifeMoves Mountain View shelter. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

    Building more housing is the key to fighting the growing homelessness crisis in Santa Clara County. Two officials want to give a local nonprofit $25 million to do so.

    Supervisors Joe Simitian and Otto Lee announced a proposal Thursday to grant LifeMoves, the region’s largest temporary housing provider, a multi-million dollar contract to help it replicate an existing shelter site in Mountain View at 10 other locations across the county.

    The grant, made up of mostly American Rescue Plan funds, is up for a vote at the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday. Upon approval, the county plans to enter an agreement with LifeMoves by Nov. 16.

    “If we can do what LifeMoves has already done, and we can, then do it again and again,” Simitian said. “You can get folks who are at risk every minute of every day of their lives out of the place they are and to a much better place.”

    Supervisors Otto Lee and Joe Simitian are proposing a $25 million grant to help LifeMoves build more shelter for unhoused residents in the county. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

    Shelter in shipping containers

    More than 9,700 people are homeless in Santa Clara County as of 2019. The most current count of homeless residents is unknown, as the county canceled its biennial survey earlier this year due to COVID-19. But advocates say the pandemic has forced even more people onto the streets.

    In San Jose, the largest city in the county, officials are pushing to find solutions to a growing crisis. Mayor Sam Liccardo, backed by six councilmembers, unveiled a plan this week to cut the homeless population in the city by 20% through prefabricated housing.

    Last May, LifeMoves opened a homeless shelter in Mountain View that houses up to 124 people, including families. The project transformed shipping containers into prefabricated homes, giving each household a private room. LifeMoves also provides social services tailored to each participant’s needs.

    “Our formula for success includes intensive case management, behavioral health services and employment services,” said LifeMoves CEO Aubrey Merriman. “We’re Google mapping them back to long-term self-sustainability and permanent housing.”

    According to LifeMoves, 69% of individuals and 89% of families who participate in its programs obtain permanent housing.

    Expanding the plan

    LifeMoves has called on government officials and private companies to help expand its ambitious plan of building prefabricated housing at 10 other sites in Santa Clara County, which could cost upward of $250 million.

    The $25 million grant would be a starter fund, Simitian said, and would cover costs to identify possible locations and develop the units at $2.5 million per project, according to county officials.

    The 10 sites, if operating at full capacity, could serve 20,000 people over five years, LifeMoves estimates. Merriman said LifeMoves is already in talks with several cities across Santa Clara County about possible sites.

    LifeMoves CEO Aubrey Merriman is calling on government officials and private companies to help his organization expand its shelter model. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

    If things go smoothly, the proposed new housing sites can open within months, Merriman said. LifeMoves took six months to open its housing site in Mountain View.

    Lee said Santa Clara County needs to be cost effective when it uses taxpayer funds for these types of projects.

    “This option is definitely one of the quickest and the best that we have right now to tackle this urgent housing problem,” Lee said.

    Since voters approved the $950 million housing bond Measure A in 2016, Santa Clara County has added roughly 2,000 affordable units to its inventory. Another 1,499 units are under construction, and 1,681 units are in the pipeline, according to the county.

    Still, that’s not enough, supervisors say. According to a 2019 survey, 82% of the unhoused population in the county does not have regular shelter.

    “There’s been so much done by so many good people… (but) we’re still running in place,” Simitian said. “We need to do more, and we need to do more now.”

    Christian Dickens recently moved into LifeMoves Mountain View shelter. After a month with a roof over his head, he’s back in school to get his GED. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

    Christian Dickens has bounced from shelter to shelter for the last three years, until he moved into a unit at the LifeMoves Mountain View shelter about a month ago.

    “I’ve never experienced nothing like a shelter like this where you got to have your own space,” Dickens told San José Spotlight. “This is a great start for a person that’s just trying to get their life together.”

    With a stable living condition, Dickens is now back in school getting his GED.

    “It’s great that this (is) taking place now because this should have happened a while ago,” he said. “Hopefully they can have some more places like this.”

    Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.

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