Supervisors Approve "Next Level" Strategy on Homelessness


SAN JOSE – Today the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors approved a “Challenge Grant” of up to $40 million to jump start as many as 16 housing sites/projects for homeless individuals across the county. The motion put forth by Supervisors Joe Simitian and Otto Lee was approved unanimously.

The challenge grant(s) can be leveraged by non-profits like LifeMoves and/or other qualified applicants to catalyze the development of up to 16 modular, supportive interim housing sites in Santa Clara County. Funding will be provided on a first come first serve basis and $2.5 million will be allocated per project.

Simitian and Lee had originally proposed a smaller program ($25 million for 10 sites) in response to an announcement from LifeMoves that they hoped to identify 10 sites and develop 10 projects. “When we heard others might be interested in tackling the problem, we thought we should grow the proposal,” shared Simitian. “We can certainly use help from any and all who are equipped to provide it.”

“After the referral came out,” observed Simitian, “I heard that others felt they were positioned to deliver sites as well. We’re nowhere near ‘solving’ this problem, so expanding the program makes all the sense in the world.”

“We know the need for safe, supportive, interim housing is great,” said Simitian. “We have heard from our community partners and are glad to have our initial proposal serve as a catalyst for greater community involvement and the development of 16 prefabricated/modular supportive housing sites (sometimes referred to as “cargo containers”).”

Lee said he was particularly excited to co-author this proposal with Simitian because he has a personal connection to the “prefabricated modular” model LifeMoves uses, having lived in similar units when he served overseas in the U.S. Navy. “Living quarters are quick and easy to make with shipping containers, and it gave all of us a place where we could keep our belongings, take rest, and feel like we had a ‘home’ despite the conditions,” noted Lee.

Lee also said he especially likes the separate, private units as a solution for families, who are often uncomfortable in the open, shared spaces of traditional congregate shelters.

“These modular units are not only comfortable, private, and secure, but they are incredibly cost effective and quick to build, allowing us to help more people, more quickly, and at a fraction of the cost of traditional housing development,” Simitian added.

According to Aubrey Merriman, CEO of LifeMoves, the organization’s prefabricated modular model costs between $50,000 and $200,000 per unit and can take less than 6 months to construct, in comparison to traditional emergency shelters that can take years to entitle and build, at a cost of $400,000 to $800,000 per unit.

The portable units can also be relocated to different sites as needs and circumstances change, or even be transitioned to permanent housing to become part of a long-term solution to ending homelessness. 

“We can’t continue to let streets be the waiting room for permanent, stable housing,” said Merriman. “We’ve already demonstrated that this model can work to get people into housing quickly, and get them connected to the comprehensive and intensive services they need for self-sufficiency, stability, and success. In alignment with Santa Clara County’s Community Plan to End Homelessness, and all of the key partners committed to ending homelessness, we’re looking forward to bringing this work to sites throughout the County, with the possibility of reaching as many as 20,000 people over five years of operation.”

Supportive services are also to help stabilize clients and prepare them for permanent housing. At the LifeMoves Mountain View site, residents are connected to mental health care, behavioral health services, addiction services, Social Security and other benefit resources along with job placement resources, classes on subjects such as parenting and financial literacy, and a wide array of other services.

Data from Santa Clara County’s most recent homeless census suggests that 9,706 County residents were experiencing homelessness as of 2019, over 80% of whom were unsheltered, accounting for nearly 8,000 individuals. By contrast, the County’s shelter capacity was 1,882 beds as of January 2020, rising to 2,336 during the pandemic.

As Simitian said, “Given these numbers, we’ve got to go big. I’m delighted the Board has authorized the funding to develop up to 16 modular sites across the county. The addition of these sites will significantly increase the number of beds in our community and the number of people able to access safe shelter.”


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