As Santa Clara County struggles to deal with the coronavirus crisis, the County Board of Supervisors is looking at an undeveloped plot of land in Milpitas as a potential temporary homeless shelter solution.
The Board unanimously approved a recommendation by Supervisor Dave Cortese, who represents Milpitas, to explore the possibility of a homeless shelter site on Thompson Court near the Piercey Honda car dealership. The six-acre, county-owned plot lies just west of a fenced townhouse development, south of a business park, and adjacent to the Elmwood Correctional Facility.
The project would seek to alleviate the growing homeless population in Santa Clara County.
“The 8,000 unsheltered and unhoused residents in our county are especially vulnerable to a rapid-spreading virus such as COVID-19,” said Cortese in a press release. “I’m proposing that this site be considered along with other available parcels so we can set up temporary shelters that will protect them and the community at large.”
Types of possible temporary housing could include recreational vehicles, pallet shelters, or tiny homes, according to a county memo. Temporary amenities could include showers, hygiene kits, medical supplies, garbage dispensers, and washers and dryers.
Cortese also bandied about other sites in Milpitas, including other county-owned and Milpitas-owned plots, which could possibly leave other sites away from residential areas as possible shelter space.
Supervisors are “hopeful” that Milpitas city officials will work with them to explore solutions.
Milpitas officials, including Mayor Rich Tran and Interim City Manager Steve McHarris opposed the project earlier in the week. McHarris penned a letter to the county claiming the site is “not compatible with the development of a temporary shelter facility for the unhoused community,” and urged the board to delay a vote until city and county officials could “work collaboratively” to proffer alternative sites and solutions.
Tran, meanwhile, opposed the idea on social media, claiming a shelter would take away from public services that are already stretched thin.
“If our city had more money laying around, I would consider a shelter, but we don’t have money laying around,” Tran wrote. “[We] must keep [a] high level of services in our neighborhoods to protect our families and children. There are other ways to address homelessness.”
Councilmember Karina Dominguez, a longtime advocate of affordable housing, broke with some of her colleagues by pledging “100 percent support” at the meeting.
The item garnered strong opposition from Milpitas residents who live across the street from the county plot. They fear a shelter would increase traffic and anxiety in their neighborhood.
“I don’t think it’s the right place to build a shelter,” said Charles Mori, a resident of the nearby housing development. “It’s too close to the residential community and will bring more traffic.”
Other residents were concerned homeless individuals would bring more crime. They also brought up concerns that the shelter’s residents would present a risk of spreading coronavirus due to the close proximity of shelter and townhouse residents.
“Milpitas can’t deal with these issues,” said Nancy Dong, who also lives nearby the proposed project.
Residents who supported the proposal advocated for the urgency of housing homeless people and getting them off the streets.
“Any opportunity for safe housing would allow homeless students to succeed in school,” said Nicole Steward, a social worker serving the Milpitas Unified School District. Steward claimed many of her homeless students have to travel south to use county services, as there are fewer county-run homeless services in Milpitas.
Those residents in support of the project asked for compassion for homeless residents, a sentiment eventually echoed by the rest of the Board.
“They’re [homeless residents] not sick, they’re scared,” said one resident. “They need help now, not tomorrow.”
With the Board’s approval, county staff has been tasked with looking at the feasibility of the site, along with alternative locations for a shelter in Milpitas. Staff members are expected to come back to the Board in August, where a final decision on the item could be made.
“We’re not trying to rush anything out there,” said Cortese. “It’s a site we’ve been looking at for more than a year. And the request is we continue looking at it.”