Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Joe Simitian has a big dream: developing long-term, systemic solutions to end homelessness in the county.
He knows that realistically, results are going to come slowly, with collaboration, but his fellow supervisors and other community leaders are making his vision a reality, one project at a time.
The county’s most recent unanimous vote to fund safe overnight parking and supportive services, including restroom access, off-street parking and social services, directly affects Simitian’s District 5 jurisdiction. Growing numbers of local residents and regional employees are living out of their cars and RVs in Mountain View because of the high cost of living. To the dismay of some, Shoreline Boulevard has become a popular destination for RV dwellers.
Mountain View Police Department spokeswoman Katie Nelson told the Town Crier in late May that she had “definitely noticed” a recent uptick in the number of RVs parked along Shoreline near Eagle Park and along Crisanto Avenue.
If any further motivation is needed to help people transition off the streets and into affordable housing, the number of cyclists complaining to police about RVs blocking bike lanes is on the rise, according to Nelson.
The Board of Supervisors voted to allocate $287,525 for a two-year pilot program, with the city of Mountain View contributing an additional $55,000, that would enable RV dwellers to park their vehicles in church parking lots overnight. The program will initially offer one site – St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church at 2094 Grant Road – but is slated to expand to a total of 10 parking lots in 2020, Simitian told the Town Crier last week.
The idea for the pilot program originated when the Rev. Brian Leong of Lord’s Grace Christian Church in Mountain View approached Simitian two or three years ago and explained that he and his congregation wanted to help the area’s homeless, but they had no idea how to move forward as just one church.
After receiving a request from Leong to meet again, Simitian learned that the pastor and members of his church formed their own nonprofit organization, Move Mountain View, and launched the Lots of Love Safe Parking Program.
The county gave the green light to Move Mountain View’s proposal June 6, enabling Lots of Love to offer those living in their cars a designated space in the St. Timothy’s parking lot from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. for a month. Each month those who participate in the program must meet with a case manager, Simitian said.
The goal is to have at least 40 parking spaces in tucked-away places allocated to Mountain View residents who are struggling. All applicants will be screened to determine whether they are a fit for the program and for eventual permanent housing placement.
“That may not sound like a lot, but it’s getting more than 100 people off the street,” Simitian said. “It’s also addressing the concern of residents on the impact this issue is having on residential parking in their neighborhoods and connecting the folks in cars and RVs with social services, providing a path out of homelessness.”
Logistical details remain, Simitian added, because dedicating five or more spots to safe overnight parking requires its own city permit.
“Would it be better to have a few spots in multiple parking lots or to request a permit for one big lot?” he asked, wondering which option would be more efficient.
The city of Mountain View has worked well with the county on the project, Simitian said, praising the “caring community with a can-do city government.”
As urgent as the need is, the program is meant to start small, Simitian said. He and his staff, as well as Leong and his congregation, believe that starting slowly to establish the spaces and learning from possible mistakes early on will provide a higher likelihood of success.
With the county recently identifying health and social services as priorities in its 2018-2019 budget, Lots of Love is just one step in the overall effort to change the stereotype of homelessness being a “big-city problem” that only affects places like San Jose, San Francisco or Los Angeles, Simitian said.
“Homelessness is a challenge in every single one of our communities, including small, suburban communities,” he said. “Mountain View has been struggling to get the resources needed. … Staff reports show that there are as many as 300 RVs parked with folks living in them every night, and the range of need varies.”
Leong is reaching out to other churches and synagogues in the area to plan future expansion. For now, Simitian will use whatever surplus is left from a county grant to expand services for homeless and low-income families in northern Santa Clara County, including in the new cold-weather homeless shelter – the Hope & Mercy Resource Center – that opened in Mountain View at Trinity United Methodist Church within the last year. Hope & Mercy and an add-on facility planned by Simitian and staff would aid the homeless by providing greater access to food, job training and case management.
Simitian said funding for the shelter improvements has been an obstacle, but he expects to release more details soon on the services Hope & Mercy could offer a population grappling with financial insecurity.