Exterior of the Sunnyvale Family Shelter, a long single floored building at the corner of Hamlin Court.
The Bill Wilson Center will become the new homeless service provider for the Sunnyvale Shelter in July. Photo by B. Sakura Cannestra.

A county-owned, 145-bed homeless shelter in Sunnyvale is changing operators and the community it serves.

The Bill Wilson Center will become the new homeless service provider for the Sunnyvale Shelter starting in July, after receiving unanimous approval on May 21 on a potential $5 million contract from the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. County housing officials rushed to find another operator for the shelter after HomeFirst, which has run the shelter since 1990, said it would be pulling out.

The shelter will also transition the population it houses — from single adults to families with children. Office of Supportive Housing Director Consuelo Hernandez said the county wasn’t able to find an operator willing to run the shelter for single adults, so they pivoted to serving families.

“The logistics behind all of the moving pieces, that’s what makes it a lot of work,” Hernandez told San José Spotlight. “At the end of the day for us, it’s making sure that we’re keeping the people that we serve at the center of whatever actions we take.”

Details of the contract with Bill Wilson Center, such as the final cost and scope of work, have yet to be determined, Hernandez said. She expects the contract to be finalized next week.

Santa Clara County searched for other potential operators at the end of last year, during which HomeFirst came out on top as the most qualified operator. The company rescinded its application in March, citing a network of misinformation. Over the past few months, HomeFirst has faced allegations of racism, and government officials across Santa Clara County have questioned their contracts with the nonprofit.

The Bill Wilson Center primarily supports families, young adults and youth, and CEO Josh Selo said they are not interested in operating a shelter for homeless adults. Over the next few months, he said renovations will be made so half of the shelter can support homeless families, such as putting in room dividers to create more private spaces for each family.

“We do not want to be in the position of putting anyone out in the streets who’s currently a guest at the shelter. So for us, we knew that we would be collaborating with the county to ensure that that does not happen,” Selo told San José Spotlight.

He added that they don’t have a date on when they plan to start accepting families. During the May 21 meeting, Selo said Bill Wilson Center would commit to supporting single adults and families at the shelter through June 30, 2025, after which they would want to only serve families. He also said they will alert shelter workers about the transition and potential job openings at the shelter for those who are not staying on with HomeFirst.

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.

The Sunnyvale homeless shelter is open year-round and serves more than 100 people. File photo.

County supervisors voiced worries during the meeting about cutting off services to the 101 single homeless adults staying at the shelter. Supervisor Joe Simitian said closing the shelter to single adults without adequate space at a different location will leave people unsheltered on the streets.

“We will have to accept responsibility as a county for that decision and for that result,” Simitian said at the meeting. “And let’s not kid ourselves that even if we placed the folks that were there today, we know that there will be other folks that step up in need.”

For every one Santa Clara County household that was housed in 2023, nearly two households 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.

The county is banking on another homeless shelter in Palo Alto opening in early next year, to increase the number of beds available for homeless adults before the Sunnyvale Shelter pivots to families only. The Palo Alto site is expected to open in February 2025, with 64 beds for single adults.

Hernandez said every person has a different timeline for how long they stay at the shelter, so it’s unclear how many might be there at the end of June. The shelter stopped taking new referrals of single adults on April 24, and will open again temporarily until the site stops serving that population.

She said the board of supervisors will be getting an update on the shelter’s transition this fall.

“Between the three organizations and keeping the shelter residents up to date on what we’re doing, I think that’s going to help remove a lot of the anxiety that people are feeling,” she told San José Spotlight.

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

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