Group of people holding signs and standing on sidewalk near homeless shelter parking lot, with signs reading "60% of the 104 unhoused deaths — Black/Brown Seniors/Singles" and "Hot Senior, Let us in"
A group of homeless advocates protest in front of the Sunnyvale Shelter on June 24, 2024 for not accepting unhoused residents as the facility transitions to a new operator. Photo by B. Sakura Cannestra.

Homeless residents, advocates and local officials have questions about the Sunnyvale Shelter as the facility changes nonprofit operators.

The Santa Clara County-owned, 145-bed homeless shelter will change operators on July 1 from HomeFirst to the Bill Wilson Center. Residents are fearful they will be kicked out as the shelter switches from serving unhoused individuals to families and workers worry they’ll lose their jobs. Sunnyvale officials want to know if the change will lead to homelessness increasing in their city.

“Let us stay here longer, and find a place for us to stay,” a resident named Claudia told San José Spotlight.

Supervisor Otto Lee shares similar concerns, and said county employees assured him that no one would be removed from the shelter because of the transition. He also asked the Bill Wilson Center to consider retaining current shelter employees to maintain continuity and support.

“Given that the needs are still there, the clients are still there, their services are also going to be needed to continue, especially if they have developed relationships with the clients,” Lee told San José Spotlight.

The shelter stopped taking referrals for single adults on April 24, and the county has no details on when it will restart. The shelter will continue serving the single adults who reside there until 2025, dependent on the opening of another county-owned shelter in Palo Alto.

Kathryn Kaminski, deputy director of the Santa Clara County Office of Supportive Housing, reiterated no one from the shelter will be kicked out on July 1, and said county employees have been attending house meetings at the shelter regularly to share information and answer questions about the transition.

“Our ultimate goal is to not shut it down and to be able to maximize the use of the site, while also allowing for us to make these necessary improvements that we need to to make sure that the shelter can continue to serve as many people possible,” Kaminski told San José Spotlight.

Kaminski said she doesn’t know how many shelter workers have been rehired, but noted that representatives from the Bill Wilson Center have been attending shelter staff meetings to share information on how to apply for a job.

Homeless advocate Shaunn Cartwright said as the summer starts and temperatures rise, the shelter’s air conditioned space could save lives. Cartwright rallied in front of the shelter on Monday with a handful of advocates, demanding the shelter take new referrals.

“More people are going to die of hyperthermia,” Cartwright told San José Spotlight. “This decision isn’t entirely about who’s in the shelter but it’s also about how it affects all the people around it.”

Entrance to the Sunnyvale homeless shelter on Hamlin Court. File photo.

Santa Clara County has grappled with homelessness for the past decade, as the region’s population continues to grow. As of last year, the county’s homeless population has grown 3% since 2019, totaling 10,028, of which 1,026 are in families.

For every one Santa Clara County household that was housed in 2023, nearly two became homeless, according to the county’s year-end analysis of its 2020-25 Community Plan to End Homelessness. That’s a 24% jump from the 3,473 households reported in 2022.

Sunnyvale has about 385 unhoused residents, according to the 2022 point-in-time count, though county officials said the tally is often an undercount.


There are about 70 homeless people staying at the shelter, according to Kaminski. That’s about half of the shelter’s capacity, and Sunnyvale officials worry people who could be staying there will be pushed to city streets.

Sunnyvale Mayor Larry Klein said he’s requesting the city and community leaders be involved in the transition planning. He said the city’s housing department and unhoused resource manager are coordinating with county employees.

“The biggest thing for us is no net loss for shelter beds in North County, but most importantly to have a plan for the unhoused currently at Hamlin (and) to figure out where they are ultimately going to be moved to, whether or not it’s North County, whether or not it’s elsewhere in the county,” Klein told San José Spotlight.

Councilmember Alysa Cisneros said when people are removed from the shelter, they immediately enter the city’s homeless population, which increases the demand for city services. While the city is working on expanding its capacity, she said this transition requires an immediate response.

People who are being exited from the shelter will receive the same support as they would if there was no transition, Kaminski said. She added that the county has been working for several years to expand shelter capacity.

“We recognize that there is a need for shelter beds, both in Sunnyvale and in North County and in San Jose and in South County, and have been working hard with our partners to expand,” she told San José Spotlight.

Office of Supportive Housing Director Consuelo Hernandez said her office is working with Supervisor Lee on a community engagement plan. As part of the plan, she said the county will have individual discussions with city officials and nonprofits such as Sunnyvale Community Services.

“It’s no secret that we have a lot of unhoused folks throughout the neighborhoods on the streets and the shelter gives them a safe place to stay,” Lee told San José Spotlight. “This is the type of place we need to make sure is available.”

Contact B. Sakura Cannestra at [email protected] or @SakuCannestra on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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