After spending two months and more than $ 1.3 million repairing dozens of rundown state-owned trailers for homeless residents, San Jose is dismantling the shelter – just a month after moving in.
Santa Clara County’s Board of Directors Cindy Chavez, center, speaks to the media as she stands alongside Santa Clara County’s General Manager Abe Andrade in front of fourteen (one had not yet arrived) supporters who are used to being housewives during of the coronavirus outbreak at the San Jose, Calif., exhibition center on Sunday, March 29, 2020. (Nhat V. Meyer / Bay Area News Group)
Citing poor living conditions for elderly residents and ongoing maintenance costs for the city, officials moved more than 30 homeless residents from caravans in a municipal parking lot near Happy Hollow Park to county-rented hotel rooms over the weekend.
The move came just a month after San Jose signed a $ 730,000 contract with Abode Services, a Bay Area-based homeless service provider, to operate 90 trailers to serve homeless people with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 or pre-existing isolate conditions and are at high risk of developing the disease. The residents moved in two days later.
Fifteen trailers (fourteen are shown here, one has not yet arrived) will be used to house people at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds in San Jose, California during the coronavirus outbreak on Sunday March 29, 2020. (Nhat V. Meyer / Bay Area News Group)
“We all know this was an experiment,” said Ragan Henninger, the city’s deputy housing director, in an interview on Tuesday. “After doing our best to make it work, we had to prioritize the safety and health of the vulnerable homeless people we served.”
Nearly 6,200 people in San Jose have no place to call home and county health officials believe at least 2,500 of them are at high risk of infection due to the underlying conditions, according to Jacky Ferrand-Morales, San’s Housing Director Jose. The majority of the homeless in the city identify as blacks or Hispanic Americans – two populations that are disproportionately infected by COVID-19.
Governor Gavin Newsom’s Emergency Services Bureau delivered 104 rescue trailers to San Jose just days after the nationwide hideout was initially cited as a welcome boost to the city’s housing supply for the homeless particularly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the order was placed in mid-March effective.
But the seemingly free donation inevitably cost the city significant resources, manpower time, and more than $ 1.3 million in inspections, repairs, and maintenance emergencies.
Shortly after they were delivered to San Jose, the city discovered that the trailers were strewn with defects – from missing sinks and countertops to damaged vents and inadequate power, water and sewer connections. Only 90 of the 104 trailers were classified as habitable by the city.
With San Jose officials being notified just 24 hours before the trailers were due to arrive, they were quick to pick a location they suspected would be vacant for the foreseeable future – a municipal parking lot at the intersection of Story Road and Remillard Court next to Happy Hollow Park, which has been closed due to the county public health ordinance. While city workers were working on repairing the trailers, they also built temporary electrical and sewer systems to place the trailers on the property.
When they were finally ready to welcome residents by mid-May, the city decided to gradually open the site – starting with occupying just 30 of the 90 supporters. But even that turned out to be too much for the newly built temporary infrastructure systems.
According to Henninger, there were “daily maintenance emergencies” in the city, from sewage overflows to power outages and even a small fire. City officials tested the equipment before the site opened, but Henninger said it would be difficult to determine exactly how much electricity and what sewer structures would be best for the demand until people moved onto the site.
The website also posed unforeseen physical barriers for the elderly residents who lived on the site.
Last month, San Jose had used the site’s 30 vacant trailers to house the elderly homeless – with an average age of 64 – with underlying health conditions. According to Abode Services and city officials, residents had difficulty getting in and out of the trailers, maneuvering around the large compound and accessing laundry and trash services.
“It’s hard to see how much effort it takes to get trailers up and running for a population at risk until you try,” said Katie Fantin, Santa Clara County director of housing programs at Abode Services. “They are wonderful followers, but they have some shortcomings when it comes to mobility.”
The city’s contract with Abode last month runs until the end of October. The city will continue to comply with the contract if the agency changes the provision of on-site services for the people in the trailers to the service in the hotels and motels.
The city’s caravans are not intended as a long-term option to house some of its homeless residents. Henninger said setting up the trailers with the right infrastructure – underground sewage and utilities – would cost more than $ 8 million.
The city is in talks with the governor’s ambulance to determine if the department will take the trailers back and if the city is eligible for reimbursement of the costs incurred in repairing and setting up the site.
Regardless, San Jose recently allocated $ 17 million to build hundreds of modular and prefabricated dorm-style homes to serve the homeless population in three locations across the city – one by the streets – during the COVID-19 pandemic Monterey and Bernal, a second on Evans Lane and a third on Rue Ferrari and Highway 101.