In the past year, the City of Milpitas has been amping up their efforts to take action in supporting unhoused residents.
In November 2020, the Milpitas City Council voted to contract with Santa Clara County to tackle homelessness in the community by providing street team outreach, case management services, and assessments.
Here’s how it works: The outreach team goes out into the community and connects with unhoused residents, assessing their mental health and medical needs. They work to build trust with the individual with whom they’re engaging. From there, they identify what potential services and housing options the individual might receive. After this, unhoused individuals, should they wish to participate, are placed in the County’s queue, which makes them eligible for rapid rehousing or permanent supportive housing.
The Milpitas City Council approved these services, to be carried out by the County’s Homeless Engagement and Assessment Team (HEAT), for a total of $200,000 for the year.
On March 1, 2021, HEAT hit the ground running and began to connect with and engage Milpitas’ unhoused residents.
“Supporting unhoused individuals and families in need in successfully transitioning from living on the street, or in shelters, to long-term housing continues to be one of the City’s top priorities,” shared Charmaine Angelo, the City of Milpitas’ Public Information Officer.
So far, 119 individuals have been assessed; of that amount, 116 of them have been placed in the queue for potential housing. All of the assessments took place between March 1 and December 31, 2021.
“This proactive outreach effort now allows these individuals to have access to many supportive services that they did not have before and of course, equally important, to be considered and referred to County’s housing programs for future placement in rapid rehousing or permanent supportive housing,” continued Angelo.
Last March, the City also, in collaboration with WeHOPE, started a pilot mobile shower and laundry program. Between March 21 and December 31, WeHOPE has provided 618 showers and 300 loads of laundry to a total of 100 residents, all of whom are either unhoused or at-risk. This program will go until September 26, 2022.
At last week’s Council meeting, City staff gave a presentation on how to allocate funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Assistant City Manager Ashwini Kantak spoke about how the County’s HEAT team has already invested a great deal of time and energy in assessments and outreach during the first year of the contract. This means that for the second year, a reduction in costs is anticipated; Milpitas’ City staff estimates they will only need $100,000 in funding to continue HEAT’s work.
After hearing the presentation, Mayor Rich Tran announced that he wasn’t interested in continuing to contract with the County for their services. He feels that the money should be kept within the City, and that the County already has enough funds to work with. It bears noting, also, that Mayor Tran abstained during the initial vote to contract with the County back in November 2020.
Councilmember Karina Dominguez expressed her disapproval of Tran’s desire to cut funding to the HEAT program.
“I think it’s unfortunate that we would even explore ending the program, when we have shown and seen data that it has been successful. We are one of the first cities to help maximize this tool that the County has,” said Councilmember Dominguez in an interview with The Beat.
When asked where he’d rather put the $100,000 in funding, Mayor Tran told The Beat, “I absolutely know where the money will go. To fund the recommendations that were provided by the Homelessness Task Force.”
The task force, which was requested by Mayor Tran, was formed in January 2021. It is composed of seven Milpitas residents who come together once a month to find ways to address homelessness in the community.
The Homelessness Task Force recommendations will be up for discussion at the City Council meeting next Tuesday. Tran feels that, rather than continuing to spend funding on the County’s HEAT program, the attention should go toward cultivating programs that are run here in the city.
“Next week, I think we’re going to see some new programs. Not cookie-cutter or one-size-fits-all, but carefully crafted Milpitas-centric homelessness support,” said Mayor Tran.
Tran has also recently proposed exploring the formation of an ordinance that would keep homeless encampments away from daycares, schools, the library, and other areas in an effort to, as he says, increase safety.
Earlier this week, the mayor posted about the topic on Facebook, saying that the homeless encampments both underneath the Calaveras Bridge and behind the Milpitas Library had received notice and will be “cleared” by March 1. He was met with a lot of criticism by some commenters, who demanded to know what was being done to support those unhoused residents.
Criticism also came Tran’s way last week, when he was asked by a resident on Facebook what was being done to support the unhoused. Tran replied: “There are shelters in the region, I am in support of transportation assistance.”
In speaking to The Beat, Tran said that the push to clear the encampments has been informed by feedback he has heard from residents.
“I try to make my decisions based on the majority of our residents and what I think is morally ethical. With encampments, we are following the law. And going through the process set forth by governments higher than our city,” said Mayor Tran.
Discussion on whether or not to fund the HEAT program will continue at the March 1 Council meeting, when the recommendations of the Homelessness Task Force will be heard, as well.
“We pretty much have no homelessness support programs in the city,” said Mayor Tran. “And this is all happening next week. It’s exciting.”