Santa Clara County approves refugee funding, $8M for Sheriff’s Office
Santa Clara County Government Center. Photo courtesy of Santa Clara County.

Santa Clara County lawmakers on Tuesday voted to approve a transfer of $8 million to cover overtime in the Sheriff's Office, agreed to allocate money for refugee programs and discussed moving the Hope Village homeless encampment.

The board approved a one-time transfer of roughly $3 million to cover overtime payments in the Sheriff's Office, while the $5 million is an ongoing expense to cover the budget shortfall from overtime. The money will be transferred from the County's Special Programs Labor Reserve.

The board voted to approve the transfer with conditions from Supervisor Susan Ellenberg and County Executive Officer Jeff Smith.

Ellenberg requested that county officials present an analysis of overtime pay in recent years to the Public Safety and Justice Committee and asked for assurances that open positions would be filled.

“We clearly need to cut down on the sheer amount of overtime for both financial and wellbeing issues,” said Ellenberg. The newly-elected supervisor suggested reducing overtime costs by hiring an agent to assist with recruitment efforts at the Sheriff's Office.

Smith, who's often had a rocky relationship with the sheriff, highlighted concerns surrounding a lack of transparency at the Sheriff's Office.

The CEO said county staff has hired a consultant to determine an appropriate staffing plan for the department.

After numerous assurances from the Sheriff's Office over the years that administrators were fixing staffing challenges, one supervisor suggested that there might not be a way around it.

“I've been told success is just around the corner,” Supervisor Joe Simitian said. “If that's not the case maybe it can't be done.”

A boost for refugees

In response to President Donald Trump's federal funding cuts, the board on Tuesday also voted to allocate extra money toward organizations that provide services for refugees.

The funds are intended to cover a deficit left by federal cuts in the 2019-2020 budget. The overall federal budget cuts for refugee programs amount to about 13 percent, according to Ellenberg's office.

“While Santa Clara County's culture remains inclusive and compassionate, our national political discourse has recently turned far too often toward exclusion and indifference and this turn of events puts this critical work in peril,” said Ellenberg, whose team championed the proposal.

“The federal office of refugee resettlement — which provides a large portion of the funds utilized by our partner (community-based organizations) — has seen its budget slashed to unprecedented low levels during the Trump Administration,” she said.

The organizations provide a variety of programming largely geared toward helping individuals find decent jobs in the United States after fleeing prosecution or torment in their home countries.

One of the recipients of the funding is International Rescue Committee, which offers emergency aid and long-term assistance to refugees and those displaced by war, persecution or natural disaster. It's unclear how much money each organization will receive.

In Santa Clara County, 50,000 residents are refugees. That's about one in 40 residents who have relied on these services.

Moving Hope Village

The board also approved plans for the relocation of Hope Village, a sanctioned homeless encampment, which is being forced off city-owned land.

Hope Village is a sanctioned encampment for 17 of San Jose’s homeless residents. Photo courtesy of Hope Village.

Since September, more than a dozen homeless residents have lived in a tent camp called Hope Village on Ruff Drive in San Jose after being shuffled from a state-owned location. The village relocated for a week at the nearby SEIU office on the same street.

But now the campers must leave the Ruff Drive site by March 30, county officials said.

Supervisor Dave Cortese said in a statement that the county leased the site on Ruff Drive from San Jose for $1 for six months. The lease ends on March 30, Cortese said, and the city has declined to extend it.

“In five weeks, the current Hope Village site will not be available to the residents and organizers,” Cortese said. “I knew that the county had to move quickly, if the city wouldn’t, to make sure that we have a place for these residents, and at the same time, look to serving other homeless individuals at the site with structures like tiny homes.”

The county is eyeing Willow and Lelong Streets for the new location — property that is currently owned by the Santa Clara Valley Water District. The board requested working with the water district to secure the new site and to split related costs with the city of San Jose.

The county's Office of Supportive Housing will return to the board with a detailed plan for what the new Hope Village will look like. The structures could include tents, tiny homes or other temporary housing structures.

Contact Carina Woudenberg at [email protected] or follow @carinaew on Twitter.

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