unhoused efforts speech
Barbara Bryant, an advocate for unhoused residents from St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, speaks at Council March 19 as Los Gatos Anti-Racism Coalition member Jeffrey Suzuki looks on. (Drew Penner / Los Gatan)

Los Gatos Council last night approved $60,000 for homeless services next year—$10,000 more than staff had requested—citing the effectiveness of the pilot year’s efforts.

The elected officials and public commenters lauded the roll-out by Town Manager Laurel Prevetti and Assistant Town Manager Katy Nomura, while reserving plenty of kudos for the faith community, which has been at the heart of initiatives providing an emergency safety net for the unhoused.

“This is possibly one of the proudest things I’ve ever voted on,” said Councilmember Maria Ristow, looking back on the project, which was approved during her term as mayor. “I think tonight there’s every reason to continue this program, and no reason not to.”

The mood for launching the unhoused assistance was buoyed by the storms early last year that became so severe the Federal Emergency Management Administration set up shop in town and led to nearly-fatal situations for some Los Gatans who sleep outdoors.

In April, Council deployed $50,000 towards showers ($10,000), a temporary restroom ($20,000) and hotel vouchers ($20,000).

Supervisor Joe Simitian worked with the Town to create a grant proposal that resulted in an additional $50,000 flowing into the budget for homeless services. Council decided to put $20,000 of this towards the hotel program.

It led to 211 hotel nights booked during emergency situations triggered by severe weather conditions (the 21 days of storms, extreme heat or bad air quality).

‘These clients are so appreciative of the opportunity to clean up, and feel a renewed sense of dignity’

—Marna Taylor, Los Gatos United Methodist Church Shower Ministry manager

These are only available to known members of Los Gatos’ unhoused community—there are currently 19 people on this list (14 have used the vouchers so far at places like Los Gatos Lodge, the Garden Inn and the Best Western). There have also been three qualifying “medical stays.”

And at this point, there’s still $11,000 left in the emergency stays budget.

However, the money from the County was one-time funding, so Los Gatos has been looking for realistic ways to continue its efforts.

Staff proposed removing high temperatures as a condition that allows hotel vouchers to be distributed, since during the heat of the day the library—a designated cooling center—is generally open; staff also recommended eliminating the air quality trigger—suggesting facemasks could be distributed to mitigate this issue.

Assistant Manager Nomura said this would allow Los Gatos to operate the hotel program for $25,000-35,000.

Ultimately Council decided to nix the high heat activation option, but left the air quality-based one in place.

Since the project started, Los Gatos hasn’t had to contend with the same level of hazy skies and number of atmospheric rivers as it has in recent years, though a February windstorm that killed a man in Boulder Creek in his home again underscored the dangers to those who don’t even have that level of protection against the elements.

Back in August, the Town installed a portable restroom and handwashing station at Plaza Park, directing cleaners to come by twice a week.

After cleanliness issues, it bumped this up to three times a week, and now costs $1,400 a month.

A staff report made the point that the general public, including farmers’ market customers, have also benefited from this amenity.

While Los Gatos has much in common with the upscale Noe Valley neighborhood up the peninsula, this project highlights at least one big difference.

Instead of the $1.7 million toilet planned for that San Francisco community (though KTVU reports the final cost to the City was $300,000), Los Gatos has had restroom facilities downtown now for the better part of a year.

In fact, its initial partnership with Los Gatos Music and Arts—which provided portable restroom services in the park all the way back to July—resulted in $1,417.50 being returned to the Town.

So, Los Gatos still has enough cash to keep the program up-and-running until the end of September (but would need $14,400 to continue it through the fiscal year).

On March 12, Marna Taylor, the Los Gatos United Methodist Church Shower Ministry coordinator, wrote to the Town hoping that, too, would be extended.

“I want to express my gratitude for the support the town has provided this past year for our most needy residents,” she said, of the program which now has a capacity to offer approximately 500 showers per year. “The money provided for cleaning our showers has made it possible for us to provide showers every week to an average of 8-10 people, most who have no other resources for a shower. These clients are so appreciative of the opportunity to clean up, and feel a renewed sense of dignity.”

Los Gatos provided St. Luke’s Episcopal Church with $6,000 via the Community Grant process, and staff was seeking the same amount for next year.

“I think it’s incredible that with so little funding we’ve been able to do so much,” said Councilmember Rob Moore, who played a key role in securing the original dollars.

He asked Nomura how the homeless residents feel about the services.

“They’re expressing a lot of gratitude,” she said.

Mayor Mary Badame was initially opposed to Los Gatos’ homelessness plan—voting against the $25,000 increase beyond the first $25,000 that was set-aside (back when she was Vice Mayor).

All of that local money came from Covid-19 relief funding (American Rescue Plan Act) doled-out by the Biden Administration.

However, in the ensuing months she was won-over, and made sure to thank faith leaders for their hard work.

Beverley Bryant, a member of St. Luke’s, spoke during public comment.

“This is what local government is all about—taking care of the people,” said the public policy consultant, calling the Town’s efforts a model for other communities to follow. “Los Gatos is doing the right thing. Keep up the good work.”

Just as Councilmember Rob Rennie went to approve staff’s recommendations—Councilmember Rob Moore chimed in with a pitch to authorize an additional $10,000, so staff doesn’t have to come back and ask for an adjustment later.

Rennie was fine with that friendly amendment, as well as the suggestion to have staff look into case management services that could help get people off the streets permanently.

Vice Mayor Hudes said he agrees that exploring case management is a good idea.

“I was skeptical about the program, particularly about the hotel program,” Hudes said, adding he’s been impressed by the level of financial control that’s been exercised.

Council voted unanimously to direct staff to move forward with the new $60,000 plan.

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Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected].


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