The San Jose Solution for Emergency Shelter

by on February 10, 2017 · 2 comments

in Civil Rights, Culture, Economy, Homelessness, Politics, San Diego

A state law allowing emergency sleeping cabins could work for San Diego too.

By Jeeni Criscenzo / San Diego Free Press

On September 27, 2016, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 2176 into law, authored by Assembly Member Nora Campos. The bill first passed on the Assembly Floor on August 30 by a vote of 73-0 and then in the Senate by a vote of 39-0.

Effective January 1, 2017, the bill amends the California Shelter Crisis Act (Govt. Code §§8698 – 8698.3) to authorize a five year pilot program in the City of San Jose.

The city must first declare a shelter crisis, as defined by Govt. C. §8698(d). Then, the City may create an emergency bridge housing community, as defined in Govt. C. §8698(e), for the homeless, which includes temporary housing in new or existing structures on City-owned or City-leased property.

A way to change this:

(Photo: Nance Lovell)

to this:

San Diego County / City of San Diego are in the middle of a serious emergency shelter crisis. The Point in Time Count numbers for 2016 for the county counted 8,692 homeless persons, with an 18.9% increase in the number of unsheltered individuals.

Numbers from the recent count will not be available until April, but are expected to be worse. San Diego has the unenviable distinction of having the 4th highest number of homeless people in the nation – more than Las Vegas, Washington DC, Chicago and San Francisco. By comparison, Santa Clara County / San Jose reported 6,556 homeless persons in 2015, and came in 9th for number of homeless people.

The San Jose Solution – San Jose took bold action to address the human crisis. As set forth above, San Jose Assemblywoman Nora Campos, authored a bill (AB 2176) that is a real game-changer for San Jose’s emergency shelter crisis (Addendum A). The bill passed and became effective January 1, 2017. It created new Government Code §8698.3. This new statute is an amendment to the existing Shelter Crisis Act of 1987. (Government Code sections 8698 – 8698.2) These statutes define and authorize “emergency bridge housing communities” during a declared shelter crisis (Addendum B):

  • This new law authorizes emergency housing in San Jose until January 1, 2022. It provides for authorized emergency housing in the City of San Jose, including an emergency bridge housing community for the homeless. The bill defines an emergency bridge housing community including, but not be limited to, housing in temporary structures called emergency sleeping cabins, as defined within Govt. Code 8698.3.
  • The bill authorizes the city to adopt by ordinance reasonable local standards for emergency bridge housing communities in lieu of compliance with state and local building, housing, health, habitability, or safety standards and laws. The bill requires the Department of Housing and Community Development to review the draft ordinance to ensure it addresses minimum health and safety standards, and to provide its findings to committees of the Legislature.
  • The bill requires the city to match each resident of an emergency bridge housing community to an affordable housing unit identified in the city’s housing plan that will be available for the resident to live in, on or before January 1, 2022. It also requires development of on-site supportive services for the emergency bridge housing communities.
  • The bill further requires the city to annually report to the Legislature specific information on the emergency bridge housing communities, including the number of residents in every emergency bridge housing community and the actual and projected number of permanent affordable housing units available through January 1, 2022.

A similar amendment to the Shelter Crisis Act for San Diego County or the City of San Diego could provide immediate relief for many of the 5,000 unsheltered individuals in San Diego. What’s more, by giving preference to families with children, elderly persons, and disabled persons, the City and/or County would be providing greater safety, affordable options, and a pathway to permanent housing to our most vulnerable populations.

A memorandum from the City of San Jose on 10/4/16: WORKPLAN FOR AB2176 EMERGENCY BRIDGE HOUSING COMMUNITIES (Addendum C), explains the background to the bill and recommendations for implementation, including:

  1. Minimum standards for identifying a potential site:
  • A vacant or minimally developed (i.e., paving only) site of at least 0.50 to 0.75 acres;
  • A 10,000 square-foot building plus parking for 16 vehicles and a dumpster enclosure.
  • Access to transit
  • Ready access to utilities (electricity, water and sanitary sewer)
  • City ownership or leasing of sites

Sites meeting these minimum standards would allow for a community of 25 individuals living in either a converted existing structure or an emergency housing cabin.

  1. Shelter Crisis Declaration and Adoption of New Local Standards
    • As required by the law, the City Council must declare a shelter crisis to implement the new emergency bridge housing community projects.
    • As a part of this action, in lieu of compliance with state and local building, housing, health, habitability, or safety standards and laws, the City must adopt by ordinance reasonable local standards for emergency bridge housing communities.
  2. Also included in the memorandum is a plan for a design competition which would cost $150,000 to $200,000 and an RFP for partner(s) experienced in developing a comprehensive site and an operating plan.

This is an emergency – While we see the necessity for encouraging community stakeholder participation, and transparency through competition for comprehensive site and operating plans, it seems that the very nature of a crisis implies urgency and should be treated as an emergency. People’s lives are at stake, including children, the elderly and disabled, who suffer every day they are without safe shelter. Therefore, we urge the County and/or City of San Diego to quickly follow the lead of the City of San Jose, to declare a shelter crisis, as defined in Govt. Code §8698(d), and seek further amendment to the Shelter Crisis Act of the Government Code by proposing a new section 8698.4 for San Diego.

Such an amendment should specifically define “homeless people” according to The McKinney-Vento Act, as individuals who lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence. In addition, the clause that requires the city “to match each resident of an emergency bridge housing community to an affordable housing unit identified in the city’s housing plan that will be available for the resident to live in on or before January 1, 2022” might need to be modified in order to be feasible in San Diego.

We simply do not have sufficient emergency shelter. According to the 2016 HUD-mandated Housing Inventory Count that is part of the annual Point-In-Time Count (PITC) conducted on January 29, 2016, the City of San Diego would need an additional 2,311 shelter beds (Emergency Shelter and Transitional Housing) to shelter all of the people in the City of San Diego who were counted during the most recent PITC. Since January 2016, those numbers have increased at an explosive rate, including a high number of U.S. military veterans. However, the number of emergency shelter beds has remained the same.

Two people working on constructing a Tiny House

(Photo: Lisa Hogan)

In January 2016, a non-profit organization called Amikas proposed putting up temporary tiny shelter clusters to serve as safe emergency shelter. The city and county is scrambling to meet the need for affordable housing units, and to replace over 10,000 affordable units lost to gentrification over the past 6 years. The tiny shelter proposal met with one barrier after another, including the reduction of designated areas where emergency shelter could be located without the need for a Conditional Use Permit. In another Government Code statute (Govt. C. §§65580 – 65589.8) cities are required to designate areas for emergency shelter based on the shelter needs extrapolated from the Point in Time Count.

Instead, less than a month after Amikas presented a plan to the Smart Growth and Land Use Committee, the map containing the City of San Diego’s then-existing designated areas was replaced with a new map designating much smaller areas, all of which were zoned IS-1-1, a designation entirely unsuitable and unavailable for residential housing, and a direct violation of Govt. C. §65583.2(a) (Addendum D).

Additionally, there are no existing building codes for tiny shelters or tiny homes in the State of California. So, while affording far more safety and habitability than the tent and tarp encampments stretched on the sidewalks of downtown and in canyons throughout the county, people cannot currently reside legally in the proposed tiny shelters. This proposed legislation would allow San Diego, the local political subdivision as defined in Govt. C. §8698(a), to provide authorization for tiny shelters or emergency sleeping cabins as legal temporary dwellings.

A well-planned and managed, thoughtfully-located emergency bridge housing community of emergency sleeping cabins would serve as safe, emergency housing for people currently trying to survive on our streets. It fits perfectly into HUD’s Housing First model by prioritizing the autonomy of the inhabitants of the village and removing barriers to housing.

In cooperation with local non-profits like Amikas, and using the existing “Lego-like” I-Wood construction system, an emergency bridge housing community of up to 24 adults and 4 to 16 children can be constructed in less than a month, using volunteer labor, for less than what it cost to install the human-deterrent rocks under the I-5 overpass last year.

Everything on the site will be mobile. The units are built on large casters that lift them from the ground and allow them to be easily rolled onto a flatbed truck and moved to another site.

Non-profits like Amikas would collaborate with existing, funded services to provide case management and assist residents in becoming permanently housed, increasing income, addressing addictions and medical issues and securing employment.

Once a person becomes homeless, there are some basic challenges they face every day just to survive and retain their humanity. Dealing with these issues consumes all of their time and energy, leaving little opportunity to take the steps necessary to regain their housed status. Emergency sleeping cabins provide the basics – safety, hygiene, privacy, storage, and dignity – so residents can get on with their lives. Non-profit agencies such as Amikas, who are currently assisting homeless persons in securing permanent housing, increasing income, addressing addictions and medical issues and securing employment, will provide these services on-site for the residents of the community.


Woman standing in doorway holding door open

Within an emergency bridge housing community, residents will have a safe haven from the criminal element that preys on the most vulnerable, including sexual predators, human traffickers, and the violently mentally ill. In addition to 24/7 security limiting access to only residents of the site and authorized persons, each emergency sleeping cabin has a door that locks, so people can feel safe to go to sleep at night and to lock up their belongings during the day. Then, they can go about the business of getting into permanent housing.

Dignity and privacy

Without housing, everything a person does is public. Even things that are perfectly legal to do in the privacy of your own home become at best humiliating and, at worst, illegal. In an emergency sleeping cabin, people can be human, couples can be intimate, families can stay together, parents can help their children with their homework, people can go to sleep when they choose, hum a tune, read a book, surf the internet on their phone, eat a snack when they want – just like housed people.

Hygiene and health

Row of blue porta-pottiesPorta=potty stationDepending on the availability of water and sewer, the first emergency bridge housing community could utilize the Portland Loo, a bathroom utility owned by a local non-profit called Think Dignity. Subsequent sites would rent porta-potties where restroom facilities are not available. Mobile showers, such as the ones currently available from Showers of Blessings and Think Dignity, could be used so all residents have a clean and safe place to use the restroom and shower. Giving people a safe place to perform their bodily functions improves the quality of life for the residents and for the neighborhoods where homeless people currently have no place to “go” except the sidewalks.


Residents can store their belongings, medication and important documents in their shelter and lock the door so they can go about their business during the day without lugging everything around with them or worrying that it will be gone when they return. Obviously, it is also beneficial to the community, eliminating the unsightly mess of the belongings of homeless people cluttering sidewalks and eliminating the need for weekly clean-up operations.


Projected costs for one pilot village sheltering 24 adults and 4 – 16 children

  • Individuals (8 x 12 = 96 sq. ft.) 4 units, 4 adults
  • Couples (10 x 12 =144 sq. ft) 4 units, 8 adults
  • Single Parent Families (12 x 12 = 144 sq. ft.) 4 units, 4 adults, 8 children
  • Dual Parent Families (12 x 12 = 144 sq. ft) 4 units, 8 adults, 8 children
Cost to construct 8×12 10×12 12×12
Kit Cost with 4X4 base 300.00 350.00 400.00
4X4 Routed Base 200.00 250.00 300.00
siding, OSB/ Paint 160.00 200.00 250.00
roofing, OSB/Paint 60.00 80.00 100.00
flooring, 150.00 200.00 250.00
windows, Home Depot 200.00 200.00 200.00
2 doors with lock, OSB 200.00 200.00 200.00
large casters, Harbor Freight 60.00 60.00 60.00
2 small solar units, Harbor Freight 100.00 100.00 100.00
Per unit costs 1,430.00 1,640.00 1,860.00
Units in pilot project 4 4 8
Costs for sleeping units 5,720.00 6,560.00 14,880.00

$27,160.00 Total cost to construct 16 sleeping units

$4,000.00 (2) 12 x 18 community shelters, framed with I-Wood kit and tarp covering

$2,400.00 (16) wood picnic tables @ $150 ea.

$1,200.00 (12) 2 x 6 raised beds for gardening

.00 Labor and project management pro bono

$34,760.00 Total Construction costs


Other Costs – to be determined depending on site

Lease (1 year or more), Site prep (paving, fencing); General Contractor; Kitchen; 24/7 Security; Water and Electricity; Rentals: Porta-potties , ADA compliant porta-potty and hower units

Our next step is to push for an amendment similar to what was put through for San Jose. Tell your city, county and state legislators that you support the San Jose Solution to Homelessness for San Diego too.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Doug Blackwood February 12, 2017 at 5:02 pm

Tin y homes problems: where to put them? Possible solutions : converting the existing vacant properties: old downtown library & Midway Post Office?
Rumor on the street: LV gives homeless 1 wat ticket to SD!


John February 20, 2017 at 2:50 am

I am pretty sure the midway usps property was sold months ago.
Anyway, reality check here. The populace of San Diego is of such entitlement and contempt toward the underclass, this would never pass the proposal stage here. They just don’t give a damn, even to the point of having to step around piles of excrement and endure the smell of urine, as long as they can express their indifference toward them by denying them the ability to have civilized facilities for basic bodily functions.


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