Santa Clara County unhoused advocates claim available shelter beds aren't being used

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Tuesday, June 25, 2024
South Bay unhoused advocates claim not all shelter beds are used
Santa Clara County unhoused advocates are claiming that available shelter beds aren't being used to bring people inside when it's hot out.

SUNNYVALE, Calif. (KGO) -- Getting a break from the heat is top of mind for unhoused people and those advocating for them, now there are claims that Santa Clara County isn't utilizing all of its shelter beds to bring people inside when it's hot out.

The rising summer temperatures have made the toughest living conditions only more unbearable for unhoused people in Santa Clara County; advocates say it can be deadly.

"A lot of the people who are dying, one of the primary, secondary causes of deaths is diabetes, and hypertension and those are things that definitely go through the roof during heat," said Shaunn Cartwright, founder of the Unhoused Response Group

But Cartwright along with unhoused people and other community groups say the county has left at least 80 beds at this Sunnyvale shelter unused.

The Sunnyvale shelter has been going through transition - the current operator, Home First, is pulling out after allegations that it discriminated against Black employees and residents.

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The new operator will eventually transition it from serving single adults to homeless families.

Something advocates say is a disservice to older single people.

Still, they say the immediate need this summer is moving people into air conditioned shelter.

In a statement, the county's deputy director at the Office of Supportive Housing, Kathryn Kaminski said:

"The North County Shelter is operating at reduced capacity to allow for much needed site improvements. While the original plan for the North County Shelter was to operate it as a cold weather shelter program, over the past four years the County has been operating the North County Shelter year-round (24/7) and the property needs physical improvements. The County stopped new referrals to the shelter in late April 2024, so the remaining residents could be served in one part of the building while the County completes repairs to other parts of the building and parking lot this summer."

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Cartwright said past construction work has proved that there was enough space to move people to another part of the building.

"It makes no sense whatsoever, that they need to have less than 60 people in this half to do that half," she said.

County Supervisor Otto Lee said he's focused on making sure the shelter's upcoming transition between operators goes smoothly for staff and residents and also shares concern over underused shelter beds.

"Yes you know, doing renovation, maybe you cannot fill every single bed, but is there a way we can increase capacity?" Lee said, "Because right now from what I've heard, they have not been accepting clients for a few months now and to me that's not right."

In its statement, the Office of Supportive housing went on to say that if there are high overnight temperatures, it will work to offer resources such as cooling centers:

"There is no time of the year without risk to people who are experiencing unsheltered homelessness and the county and our partners are working hard to increase temporary housing opportunities countywide. During heat events, County libraries are available as cooling centers during the day when the heat risk is highest. Unhoused individuals can also seek relief at drop-in centers and other homeless service providers across the County. So far this summer, the heat events have been short in duration (1-2 days) and temperatures have cooled off in the evenings. If there is a future heat event with high overnight temperatures, the Office of Supportive Housing will work with our Office of Emergency Management and local jurisdictions to assess and offer resources based on the risk of the event."

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