Santa Clara starts task force to study homelessness
A homeless encampment along Calvert Drive on the border between Cupertino and Santa Clara. Photo by Kate Bradshaw.

    Santa Clara is assembling a task force aimed at tackling homelessness within the city and needs recruits.

    The city is working with San Francisco nonprofit Homebase to examine the needs and service gaps for the unhoused by creating a task force and strategic plan. The task force will be comprised of four to eight members, including residents with lived experience of homelessness and representatives from local agencies who work with the homeless. The strategic plan is expected to be completed in six months.

    The task force will meet monthly for about six months. Selections are expected to be made by March 24, with the first meeting taking place in early spring. The city has set aside $450 in gift cards to incentivize those who have lived on the streets or are currently unhoused to participate in the task force planning, according to city spokesperson Lon Peterson.

    “Our role in the process will be to facilitate the task force and support development of the draft plan,” said Jessie Hewins, directing attorney at Homebase.

    The Santa Clara City Council unanimously awarded a $75,000 contract to Homebase on Jan. 25. Because the nonprofit is leading the task force instead of the city, its meetings will not be subject to the state transparency requirements that traditionally govern public meetings.

    The formation of the task force comes after the City Council voted unanimously in November to reject a proposal to build 60 units of transitional housing at 2035 White Oak Lane and asked the city to look for different sites. The council’s decision drew a record amount of responses, with many residents opposed to the proposal.

    “Politicians are so afraid of NIMBYs (not in my backyard) and that communities will go after them that they don’t do what is needed to stabilize people,” Santa Clara County homelessness advocate Richard Scott told San José Spotlight.

    Homebase has a track record with Santa Clara County related to homeless studies, and prepared Santa Clara County’s 2018 report, “Ending Homelessness: The State of the Supportive Housing System in Santa Clara County” and a 2019 technology needs assessment of Santa Clara County’s supportive housing system.

    No easy solution

    The 2019 biennial count of Santa Clara County’s homeless showed more than 9,000 homeless individuals living in the county.  This number included 326 people in Santa Clara experiencing homelessness, up 20% from 2017. A record number of  homeless people died on the streets of Santa Clara County in 2021, including 141 unhoused seniors, San José Spotlight previously reported.

    The biennial count, delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, resumed last month with the results still being tallied.

    Santa Clara provides a number of programs aimed at supporting the unhoused, according to Peterson. The city’s Community Response Team helps homeless people in the city access services such as daytime shelter, meal programs, job training and health care within the county.

    “Homelessness is a countywide issue, which is one of the reasons we are participating in the county’s Community Plan to End Homelessness,” Peterson said. “In 2020, the county adopted a five-year plan meant to be a joint effort for all cities within the county.”

    The city is in the process of providing a mobile shower, laundry and case management programs for unhoused Santa Clara residents. Santa Clara partners with the county to help individuals access permanent supportive housing, Peterson said. Currently, a 196-unit affordable housing development at 2233 Calle del Mundo in Santa Clara is under construction.

    Santa Clara County has an ambitious goal to end homelessness by 2025, which some critics have questioned for its feasibility. That plan is meant to be a joint effort within the county, including the city of Santa Clara.

    “I think the county Plan to End Homelessness has laudable goals, but it doesn’t do anything for people living on the street,” Scott said.

    He said one helpful approach would be to offer sanctioned encampments—areas where unhoused residents could set up their tents legally and receive supportive services. Proposals for such camps haven’t gone far in neighboring San Jose.

    “It makes no sense to chase people from one area (of the city) to another,” he added. “You aren’t helping anybody except satisfying people who complain.”

    Contact Kate Bradshaw at [email protected] or @bradshk14 on Twitter.

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