State to audit San Jose’s homeless spending
San Jose workers dismantle a large homeless camp near Columbus Park in September 2022. The state will audit how San Jose spends its funds related to homelessness. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    California is set to audit how San Jose spends its homeless funding, following a request from state Sen. Dave Cortese.

    The state’s Joint Legislative Audit Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to approve the audit proposed by Cortese last year. The California State Auditor will review the success rate of various state and local programs—including Project Homekey—in addition to how cities like San Jose have spent state and federal funding to reduce homelessness.

    “It’s certainly not about going after any city,” Cortese said during the meeting. “It’s not an indictment, it’s an audit.”

    Gail Osmer, an advocate for unhoused people, said during the meeting that the audit is essential to helping the thousands of homeless residents suffering in San Jose. Many of her friends have been waiting years to access any form of shelter or housing, she said.

    “This issue is bigger than any of us. It is about ensuring transparency in our policy and funding solutions,” Osmer said. “It is about our unhoused neighbors, and how you can make their lives a little bit better.”

    San Jose has roughly 6,650 homeless residents, according to a count conducted last year. The current homeless population in the city is the largest San Jose has seen in 13 years. There are approximately 10,028 homeless people across all of Santa Clara County, the region’s highest number since 2007. San Jose also has a large population of chronically homeless individuals, or people who are homeless for longer than a year: 1,906 people as of last year, up from 1,553 people in 2019.

    Cortese said he was moved to request an audit of San Jose’s use of homeless funds after witnessing the living conditions at a large homeless camp in Columbus Park that has since been swept. He hopes the audit will be complete by September.

    “We’ve all seen homeless encampments, but what I saw was far worse than a tent city,” Cortese said. “It was a public health disaster.”

    A camper trailer that Columbus Park resident Mickey Kesler said San Jose destroyed is seen in the park on Nov. 23, 2022. Photo by Joseph Geha.

    State Sen. John Laird of Santa Cruz said during the meeting that along with large cities like San Jose, smaller cities like Santa Cruz also need to have their homeless programs reviewed. Santa Cruz has a higher per capita homeless population than Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles and San Diego, he said, but the city isn’t able to qualify for many programs.

    Laird also suggested the point-in-time homeless population count might need to be reviewed, since winter storms displaced homeless residents from their usual shelter.

    “This year the (count) was during a driving atmospheric river; you cannot get an accurate count (on) which the services are based,” Laird said. “There’s people sleeping in rural river beds.”

    State Assemblymember Josh Hoover, a representative from Sacramento who co-sponsored Cortese’s proposal, said during the meeting that homelessness is the biggest public health and safety crisis facing California today. The state has spent $20 billion to address homelessness since 2018, yet the number of homeless people has increased by 77% in that same timeframe, he said.

    “I personally, as a parent, have found needles in the park where my kids play,” Hoover said. “I believe this audit will give us the information that we need to determine which programs and strategies are working, (and) also which programs and strategies are not working.”

    Contact Sonya Herrera at [email protected] or follow @SMHsoftware on Twitter.

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