Santa Clara residents blast homeless housing plan
Dozens of residents gathered at Mission City Church in Santa Clara on March 9, 2023, most of whom opposed a proposed homeless housing site on Benton Street and Lawrence Expressway. Photo by Sonya Herrera.

Dozens of Santa Clara residents weighed in on a proposed supportive housing development for homeless people, with the majority against the idea.

The proposed development, at the corner of Benton Street and Lawrence Expressway, would include between 80 to 120 interim, or transitional, homes. The county, through its nonprofit partner LifeMoves, would offer on-site support services, and each resident would have their own room and bathroom. But residents came out in force to oppose the plan.

“Housing is a human right... Isn't safety a human right?” a woman named Angie asked at a Thursday meeting to gather public input on the proposal, held at Mission City Church in Santa Clara. “Why are you trying to turn Santa Clara into San Francisco?”

Consuelo Hernandez, director of Santa Clara County's Office of Supportive Housing, presented information on the proposal, including why the county selected the Benton and Lawrence site. The location is relatively close to transit and support services, and the area needs transitional housing, she said.

The meeting was packed, with many attendees holding “No” signs in opposition. Of those who shared comments on the project, 39 were opposed, 18 were in favor and a few others were unclear or undecided.

A resident holds up a sign at a community meeting for a proposed homeless housing site in Santa Clara on March 9. Photo by Sonya Herrera.

Residents' biggest concerns centered on safety, particularly of children attending schools close to the proposed development. Attendees also questioned the integrity of the county's data. Hernandez said there were only three schools within 1.5 miles of the site, while a few attendees said there are at least a dozen schools within that distance.

“We feel unsafe, we feel desperate that we cannot keep our families and our kids safe,” a woman named Yo-Yo said. “You guys said that we should show our love. How can one show love with their heart full of fear?”

Emily Ann Ramos, an affordable housing preservation associate at housing advocacy nonprofit SV@Home, acknowledged that while fear of the unknown can be overwhelming, it doesn't need to be, she said.

“I believe that everyone here are good people, are good neighbors, and want to do the best for everyone,” Ramos said. “As we try to solve our housing crisis, we need to look with compassion and courage and try to find a way.”

Santa Clara's unsheltered homeless population grew from 264 in 2019 to 375 in 2022, according to the county's most recent homeless data. The Santa Clara City Council has previously rejected another proposal for transitional housing, which also inspired heated debate among residents. Last month, the council approved a plan to build more than 11,000 new homes by 2031.

Residents opposed to the project said they want to help house homeless people, but the location of the proposed development at Benton and Lawrence isn't ideal.

Kirk Hinton, who said he lives near the proposed development with his three daughters, thinks residents should be more empathetic to the homeless people in the city.

“We have some real concerns, all of us, but compassion isn't just saying, ‘Oh, I hope it gets better,'” Hinton said. “Compassion is going and doing something about it.”

Santa Clara Vice Mayor Kevin Park speaks to residents at Mission City Church regarding a proposed homeless housing site at Benton Street and Lawrence Expressway. Photo by Sonya Herrera.

Vice Mayor Kevin Park attended the meeting and assured residents he's listening and taking notes on everything they said, and that he's undecided about the project.

Still, he said simply saying “no” to the project is not an option.

“If you want things to change, you have to tell us what options you want,” Park began, and residents yelled in response.

Santa Clara will host its next community meeting on the proposal virtually on March 22 at 6 p.m. The Santa Clara City Council will hold a public meeting on the proposal on April 25. Click here for more information.

Contact Sonya Herrera at [email protected] or follow @SMHsoftware on Twitter.

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