The San Jose City Council wants to do more research before approving sanctioned camps for the city’s unhodged residents.
Council members unanimously voted Tuesday to withhold a sanctioned homeless camp plan while city officials search for potential locations and dates on how the camps could help the city. The local council will not be revisiting the issue anytime soon, and the city’s Department of Housing estimates that camps could take at least a year to set up.
Sanctioned camps are designated places where the homeless can live and congregate without fear of being evacuated. The city would provide sanitary and hygienic services such as portable toilets and garbage disposal.
The most recent biennial homeless census in San Jose recorded 6,172 homeless people across the city in 2019 – an increase from 1,822 from 2017. There are nearly 10,000 homeless in the county.
Amanda, who did not provide her last name, said during a video presentation that she has lived in camps for 11 years. She said she had been harassed multiple times.
“I think a sanctioned camp is a step up for most people,” she said. “Stability is a good thing and I am for stability.”
Rather than implementing a camp plan, council members asked city officials to return data suggesting that sanctioned camps would be a more effective solution to homelessness than other services such as the city’s Services, Outreach and Resources (SOAR) program. The program provides resources for the homeless such as mental health services, motel vouchers, and mobile hygiene services.
Although the camp schedule was delayed, councilors agreed to suspend the evacuation of the camps at short notice. Instead, the city will give residents of the camp a notice period of at least 60 days. Previously, the city swept the camps without notice, causing residents to scramble to retrieve their belongings to return to the area later.
According to Ragan Henninger, deputy director of the housing division, the city spent $ 57 million on homeless programs in 2020 – $ 42 million more than in 2019. Much of that money is temporary funding related to COVID-19, which is not renewed after the pandemic is over.
In March, elected officials voted to restrict the location of camps and banned them from being near schools and daycare – using the same distance standards that bars and cannabis dispensaries keep children away from.
Homeless proponents say sanctioned camps make sure hazards like fires are easier to fight.
“No number of searches or no number of police activities make people disappear,” said Sandy Perry, president of Santa Clara County’s Affordable Housing Network. “The status quo is unacceptable.”
Council members, including Matt Mahan, penned a memo that formed the basis for the council’s vote on Tuesday evening. Mahan’s plan creates setbacks in sensitive public spaces and provides basic services.
Mahan said he supports testing how well the city can manage a homeless camp, how expensive it is, and whether it’s better than tiny houses, shelters, or other inexpensive approaches to safe shelter. He suggested using the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds as a sanctioned storage location. There is already a large warehouse of mobile homes near the exhibition center, which has led to a dispute over whether or not the local mobile home community should be forced.
“I think everyone in our community deserves at least sanitary and hygienic resources,” Mahan told San José Spotlight. “At a minimum, the city should provide porta potties, hand-washing stations, and routine garbage disposal for every camp in the city to allow everyone to live together with a minimum of dignity.”
Mahan said he was concerned that if the city initially tried to offer a wider range of services, it would become too expensive and unwieldy to implement. Although he supports sanctioned camps, he said they pose a legal challenge to the city and that expanding SOAR and road services is the best way to go.
“There are concerns that the city is legally sanctioning a room,” Mahan said. “We are then responsible for our land use policies and can be held liable for public safety in these areas.”
City officials shared concern that they were unable to conduct sanctioned camps. According to Henninger, five people in the city’s housing administration are dealing with homeless problems.
Mayor Sam Liccardo pointed to numbers Henninger provided on Tuesday that showed the city had put 3,000 homeless off the streets since the pandemic began. Liccardo cautioned against chasing after ideas the city has not yet tried and “double what works instead”.
“We have to acknowledge that we are not trying the same things. We try a lot of new things and we try them out quickly, ”said Liccardo. “We don’t have to put our hands on the flame because we have a lot of other innovative programs and we know some of them work. We just need the resources, staff, and attention to actually scale them. “
Some residents are frustrated with the city’s reaction. They say the city waited too long to accommodate the homeless, exacerbating problems such as illegal dumping and public safety.
“The situation is dire and urgent. We need action, not further analysis, ”said Felicia Gershberg, co-leader of the Mutual Aid Group Together We Will. “We have to think about the daily life of our unprotected neighbors.”
Elected officials shared some of that frustration, including Councilor Maya Esparza, who urged her colleagues to find areas in their own districts for sanctioned camps if they want to take the issue forward.
“I feel like we don’t have a lot of real talks about it,” said Esparza. “Only two of my colleagues have ever offered a sanctioned camp site in their district,” said Councilors Dev Davis and Raul Peralez.
“For people suggesting this, be real for a second,” she added. “Offer a location in your district. Share what you’d like to give up so we can do it. “
Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter. Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected].