North County Cold Weather Shelter Opens This Weekend

December 1, 2015


SUNNYVALE – As temperatures fall across Santa Clara County, shelters are gearing up to give the homeless warm, safe places to sleep at night. Starting December 5, 125 overnight emergency shelter beds will be available at three North County locations, including 100 beds at a new North County site at the former Onizuka Air Force Station in Sunnyvale (open to the media December 6).

The new shelter opening in Sunnyvale caps off a nearly two-year process of replacing 125 cold-weather beds lost with the closing of the former Sunnyvale Armory shelter in early 2014. Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, who spearheaded the process of securing the 125 replacement beds, visited the new Onizuka shelter site in Sunnyvale to walk through the facility and review the progress to date.

“First and foremost, I’m gratified to see the hard work of so many different folks produce such a good result,” said Simitian. “This new shelter was a long time coming, and I know it will save lives this cold-weather season.”

The North County cold-weather shelter beds, along with others around the County, are funded by Santa Clara County government and operated by local nonprofits. The 100 beds at the Onizuka shelter complements 20 beds in East Palo Alto and 5 in Palo Alto to make up the 125 beds lost when the Sunnyvale Armory site was redeveloped for permanent affordable housing beginning last year. That closure prompted Simitian, who represents the North County area on the Board of Supervisors, to begin pushing for North County replacement sites.

Earlier this year, after a series of meetings and discussions between the County, the City of Sunnyvale, and local nonprofit partners, the former Onizuka Air Force State site was secured for use as a shelter, to be administered by Milpitas-based nonprofit HomeFirst.

“Many different agencies and individuals were involved in setting up the new North County cold weather shelter, and Supervisor Simitian’s leadership was critical to its success,” said HomeFirst CEO Andrea Urton.  “He took the lead in hearing people out, and supporting a solution that worked for everyone.”

“We’re all working toward long-term, systemic solutions to end homelessness entirely in Santa Clara County; but that won’t happen overnight,” said Simitian. “Unfortunately what might happen overnight, especially in the winter, is death from cold. Four homeless men lost their lives to exposure in a single week two winters ago. We need emergency shelters like this one to prevent that from happening.”

Efforts by local governments in Santa Clara County to end homelessness permanently are paying off. Between 2013 and 2015, the total number of homeless in the County fell from around 7600 to around 6600, according to counts conducted in January of each year.

Simitian noted, however, that, “While our homeless population generally declined in other parts of the County, the number of unsheltered homeless actually went up in the North County – Palo Alto, Mountain View, and Los Altos. The increase,” said Simitian, “was in direct proportion to the number of beds lost when the Sunnyvale Armory closed in 2014.”

“People need a place to go when the weather is cold and wet – potentially very wet this year. It’s as simple as that,” reiterated Supervisor Simitian. “We’ve got a great facility here in Sunnyvale, and it’s modular, which means we have flexibility to move to a new location after this year, without compromising services or quality this year.”

The new Sunnyvale shelter will operate at Onizuka from December 6, 2015, to March 31, 2016, open from 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 a.m. The shelter will be fully staffed round the clock, including extra security overnight, and will offer meals, medical care, and other support services.

The County is still seeking a permanent location for a North County emergency shelter after the coming season.




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