Santa Clara County signs lease with San Jose to provide land for Hope Village

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SAN JOSE (BCN) The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors is planning to sign a short-term lease to provide land for a homeless encampment that hopes to be a model for temporary housing in the South Bay.

Hope Village, which originally cropped up in a parking lot on Ruff Drive near Mineta San Jose International Airport, shifted to the San Jose city-owned lot of the Service Employees International Union Local 1877 building on Monday after receiving a 72-hour vacate notice from the California Highway Patrol a week prior.

Hope Village organizer Peter Miron-Conk and others spoke with the CHP, local administrators and state officials to find a more permanent location for the camp, settling on the SEIU lot as a temporary fix. 

The camp is clean, has solar power, offers showers three times a week and aims to provide shelter until its residents are able to afford permanent housing.

Santa Clara County Executive Jeff Smith requested to lease the SEIU lot from San Jose on Monday and City Manager David Sykes outlined the terms of a potential lease on Tuesday.

The county would pay $1 a month for a lease lasting a maximum of 180 days, according to Sykes' letter. Because the area is not zoned for residential use, Sykes said the location cannot be a permanent solution for Hope Village. 

The Board of Supervisors will review the lease at their regular meeting next Tuesday. Supervisor Dave Cortese said today at the Hope Village site that the board is planning to move forward with the lease, but the camp will likely move before 180 days are up.

During that time, Cortese said he hopes the county will map and take inventory of 700 pieces of county-owned property that could sustain additional transitional "villages."

"It's just a years-old bureaucratic grind ... and the problem with that, in this situation is that people can't wait -- winter is coming," Cortese said. "Honestly, I think that's what [Hope Village] organizers did. 
They said, 'We're here, we picked out a site for you.'"

Cortese and Miron-Conk have been discussing moving the camp to a field between SEIU and Hope Village's original location at the parking lot of the state Employment Development Department. 

About seven to 12 people currently live in tents on the field, according to Miron-Conk, and one person told him they have lived there for about seven years.

Residents at Hope Village cannot have substance abuse issues, serious mental health problems or a history of violent behavior, and the people who live in the field will be assessed to determine if they can join the camp or access other resources.

"But we're not in the position of sweeping people and cleaning out their stuff," Miron-Conk said. "That's not an acceptable alternative ... we're aware that it's not going to be easy."

In the future, Cortese said the county will have to start considering homeless individuals in segments by need, such as veterans, those with substance issues, and others, to address the problem effectively.

The city-county partnership with Hope Village might bring changes to the independence of the camp, including the presence of law enforcement, but Cortese said the county will negotiate with the camp to establish a system the residents are comfortable with. This would include limited police presence or a resource officer who works on specific issues.

"There has to be a lot of deference of the self-empowerment of the people in the Village. We want them to feel ... like they're enforcing the rules themselves," Cortese said. "That's a huge psychological stepping stone to living with a landlord, paying the rent on time ... it's also a continuum of empowering them to getting back on their feet."