SUPERVISORS PUSH “NEXT LEVEL” STRATEGY ON HOMELESSNESS
Challenge Others to Step Up as Well
SAN JOSE – Santa Clara County Supervisors Joe Simitian and Otto Lee issued a challenge today to partners throughout the public and private sector to join them in supporting the rapid expansion of emergency housing across the County.
The challenge included a proposal to throw in up to $25 million of County funds to jump-start the development of 10 emergency housing sites ($2.5 million per site), using the method of converting shipping containers into housing units pioneered by the nonprofit LifeMoves in an effort to rapidly address the region’s growing homelessness crisis.
The County Board of Supervisors will vote on the proposal next Tuesday, September 28.
“There comes a time when we have to stop and say incremental change is no longer enough,” said Simitian, who co-authored the proposal with Lee. “The size of this problem is too immense, and the suffering of folks experiencing homelessness is too much, to take anything other than urgent and far-reaching steps.”
“By partnering with LifeMoves, we have the opportunity to harness the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship that characterizes our region, to find a last solution to one of our community’s most serious and intractable problems. Simply put, we’ve got to do more, and we’ve got to do it fast,” said Simitian.
Lee said he was particularly excited to co-author this proposal with Simitian because he has a personal connection to LifeMoves’ “prefabricated modular” model, 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.
Simitian agreed: “Not only are these units 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,” he noted.
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.”
LifeMoves’ model was first tested in Mountain View, where its flagship site on Leghorn Street was built over the course of six months, in the midst of the pandemic. The site opened in May 2021, immediately tripling the number of cold weather shelter beds in the city and increasing the city’s year-round supply by a factor of 10.
With 100 separate units and the potential of serving more than 350 people each year (as clients transition out of the site), Merriman said this site could serve more than half of Mountain View’s unhoused population within the first year alone.
Supportive services are also provided at the site to help stabilize clients and prepare them for permanent housing by connecting them to mental health care, behavioral health services, addiction services, Social Security and other benefit resources along with providing job placement resources, classes on subjects such as parenting and financial literacy, and a wide array of other services.
“The support they provide at LifeMoves is incredible,” shares “Coach,” a current resident at LifeMoves Mountain View. “If there’s anybody out there in that same situation, I’d say, ‘Hey, you want to get your life back together? Come here because they have the resources to address your issues, move you forward, and get you back on your feet.’ Coming here has changed my life greatly.”
Merriman said LifeMoves is already in discussions with five additional municipalities across the County to build similar sites and hopes to leverage County funding to attract investment from other government, corporate, and philanthropic donors.
“Our estimates show that it will take roughly $250 million to build 10 new sites,” said Merriman. “This funding from the County, in the form of challenge grants, is a critical response to our call to action for the community that will move us closer to this goal, but we will need other partners to take similarly bold steps in order to make this goal a reality and truly make a significant impact on homelessness in our communities.”
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 which 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. Incremental efforts just aren’t getting the job done.”
Simitian said he hopes his and Lee’s proposal will help to significantly increase the number of these beds, as well as play a key role not only in addressing the homelessness crisis, but the COVID crisis as well.
“We’ve seen how important it is for folks to have their own separate space to be able to isolate from others and keep themselves and their families safe,” said Simitian. “As we emerge from this pandemic and prepare for future ones, LifeMoves’ model is a smart solution that can provide the safety and security of a home so many of us came to recognize as essential over the past 18 months.”
Simitian and Lee both serve on the Board of Supervisors’ Health and Hospital Committee.
Their proposal can be accessed here: