An emergency housing crisis was declared in San Jose on Tuesday and efforts are underway to shelter the homeless during the winter as El Nino is expected to bring inclement weather.
The City Council, in a unanimous vote, approved providing overnight warming facilities at four locations and waiving requirements for worship places to shelter the homeless.
The city will be opening up four of its facilities for the homeless during the overnight hours at Bascom Community Center, Tully Community Library, Washington United Youth Center and Biblioteca Branch Library.
The centers will be operated from Dec. 15 until March 31 through a contract with HomeFirst Services of Santa Clara County, a Milpitas-based nonprofit.
The locations were selected based on their proximity to other encamped areas, transportation and services, said Ray Bramson, project manager at the housing department's homeless response team.
The hours for each center would allow the sites to be cleaned up before normal operations can resume, Bramson said.
During the daytime the homeless can also receive services at HomeFirst's Boccardo Reception Center where they can make use of shower, sanitation and laundry facilities.
"We want a place where we can get people inside quickly when waters begin to rise and temperatures begin to drop," Bramson said.
The centers would only be available based on National Weather Service forecasts when overnight lows are at 38 degrees or below with a less than 50 percent chance of rain or 42 degrees with a 50 percent or more likelihood for rain.
City Attorney Rick Doyle said he didn't remember a time when the city declared a shelter emergency.
Many community members told the council they supported efforts to provide refuge for the homeless but had public safety concerns over the selected locations and their proximity to neighborhoods.
Many people said keeping the homeless at the Washington youth center and Biblioteca library, both located at 921 S. First St., would present safety concerns for the neighborhood and Washington Elementary School. The homeless may linger in the area during the day and add more problems to the prostitution, drugs and alcohol already troubling the area.
The council also approved an urgency ordinance that will streamline the process for worship places to provide short-term shelter for the homeless.
The pilot program would drop such places from requirements of public outreach for neighboring property owners and obtaining a special use or conditional use permit.
Under city municipal code a religious facility can only house up to 15 people at a time.
Deacon Ruben Solorio of the Diocese of San Jose said many parishes are interested in providing shelter for the homeless.
The religious facilities can provide opportunities for the homeless to create a bond with someone on a personal level, City Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio said.
There are a little over 300 places of worship in the city including churches, synagogues and temples. If all were to participate in the program 4,500 homeless people could be assisted, Oliverio said.
The city's homeless census and survey conducted in January counted 4,063 people and 69 percent of them were without shelter at all.
The city's housing inventory from last month showed there were only about 1,500 beds available for the homeless, according to Housing Department Director Jacky Morales-Ferrand.
The department will assess the pilot program and look into running an ongoing winter shelter program, Morales-Ferrand said.