By Khalida Sarwari
Initially set to close on April 15, the city’s homeless shelter will now stay open the rest of the year.
The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved extending the North County Winter Shelter from six months to year-round, but only on a pilot basis.
The board will decide whether to make the change permanent in December after further review. For now, it will be the county’s only year-round homeless shelter outside of San Jose.
Rose Gregorio, a local activist and nurse who has worked with the shelter, applauded the move, saying the shelter has been a life-saving place for those struggling to find housing and support.
“These are kids who come running up to show me the A’s they got on tests at school, elderly people who just need some help and a place to rest, and families who work, but just need some support in a very tough time,” Gregorio said. “Having the shelter open year-round will mean that these people don’t need to go back on the street in April.”
Board president Joe Simitian and Supervisor Dave Cortese proposed the idea nearly a month after a group of transients and volunteers at the shelter banded to advocate for keeping the shelter open permanently.
Stephanie Demos, chief development officer with HomeFirst, said she was thrilled to hear the news. She believes the advocacy efforts made a “positive contribution” toward the board’s decision.
“They were wonderful,” she said. “The county has always wanted to do this, but I think the perception was that we probably couldn’t afford to do it. But, I would say that the advocacy from this group of volunteers has been polite and constructive and very consistent, and I think what’s important is they know the Sunnyvale shelter really well.”
Demos also commended nearby businesses for stepping up to donate food and other necessities. She suspects that opposition to the shelter from some in the community is driven by fear and misconceptions.
Established originally as a temporary cold weather shelter to serve the homeless during the winter months, the Sunnyvale shelter — operated by HomeFirst — was extended to a six-month shelter by the board last year.
For many, the North County Winter Shelter serves as a respite from danger and the elements. Located at 999 Hamlin Court, the 140-bed shelter offers families and individuals hot meals, showers, sleeping mats, laundry facilities and a to-go pack of snacks to get them by during the day. It previously operated solely as an emergency shelter, but now it offers referral services to its clients and assists in helping them transition into permanent housing.
Simitian, who represents much of the North County and West Valley, has spearheaded the effort to increase homeless services in those areas since 2014. He suggested that recent surveys indicate the homeless count is up in the area, increasing the demand for the shelter.
“We continue working toward long-term, systemic solutions to end homelessness entirely in Santa Clara County, but that won’t happen overnight,” he said. “So for now, we should make sure that folks in the North County who are spending their nights on the street have somewhere warm and dry to lay their heads down, year-round.”