The push to promote shelters, prohibit illegal unhoused encampments in Bay Area communities

Lauren Martinez Image
Tuesday, January 23, 2024
The push to promote shelters, prohibit illegal Bay Area encampments
Ending the era of encampments and providing an alternative to the streets is a push from many Bay Area communities.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Ending the era of encampments and providing an alternative to the streets is a push from many Bay Area communities.

On Saturday San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan along with Councilmembers Omar Torres and Dev Davis introduced a memo to prevent encampments from returning to the Guadalupe River Trail in the heart of downtown.

The city says last fall $2 million of State Encampment Resolution Funds went towards relocating unhoused residents into interim housing which closed the encampments and cleaned up the public use trail. But some camps have returned and city leaders want to preserve that progress.

Mayor Matt Mahan said creating safe and managed alternatives to encampments is the right way to end encampments.

"It's hard to build public trust - get people back out using our trails, keep our river clean, keep our city economically vibrant, if we're just kind of chasing encampments around the city," Mahan said.

VIDEO: San Jose mayor considering sanctioned safe sleeping sites for unhoused residents

San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan says he's looking into sanctioned safe sleeping sites to help homeless residents.

The memo would direct the city manager to implement a 'no return zone' that prevents re-encampments along the Guadalupe River Trail.

Mahan hopes this could be a model for resolving encampments across the city.

"We can then go to large neighboring encampments and say we're sorry this is an area where you can't camp it's not safe for you, it's not ok for the broader community, the environment - we're going to require you to come indoors but here's a place where you can go," Mahan said.

The city council's rules committee will take up the issue this coming Wednesday.

Happening tomorrow in San Mateo County, the Board of Supervisors will be considering an ordinance that promotes shelter and penalizes illegal encampments.

The ordinance states if adopted- a person is occupying an encampment on public property they "can be charged with a misdemeanor after receiving at least two written warnings and two offers of shelter that are declined."

VIDEO: Here's how an unhoused person navigates San Francisco's shelter system

Some unhoused people in San Francisco say getting a shelter bed is complicated and not practical.

"We really need to first expand places people can go, and then strongly encourage them and ultimately if we have to require and I think what San Mateo is looking at is getting closer to that requirement," Mahan said.

Elizabeth Funk is the CEO of DignityMoves, a company that builds interim supportive housing communities.

"There are two sides to the equation the government has to have enough supply therefore be able to hold people accountable to use it," Funk said. "I think the media likes to sensationalize and criminalize homelessness, but when I see stories like this I get really excited because it's great news that you have two municipalities that have taken this problem seriously enough and they've built enough capacity that they're in a place to have this conversation."

Funk said cities along with federal support - should provide not just basic shelters but the right kind of temporary housing assistance.

"'I've had people who refused shelter because they are sober and there are drug users at the shelter," Funk said. "I've never met anyone who prefers to be on the street they prefer that to what's being offered. That's fair. I believe that if we have legitimate offers that are palatable for that person, and there's going to be a different definition for each person, they are going to accept it and we should be able to reclaim public spaces because we have offered palatable options."

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