Home News Sunnyvale homeless shelter at center of discrimination allegations gets new operator

Sunnyvale homeless shelter at center of discrimination allegations gets new operator

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A large homeless shelter in Sunnyvale is getting a new operator after the nonprofit currently in charge decided to pull out of the site amid allegations it discriminated against the facility’s Black employees and residents.

HomeFirst, one of Santa Clara County’s largest homeless service providers, announced in March that it would cease operating the county-owned shelter, saying that continuing to run the 145-bed site “within a framework that perpetuates misinformation” would be a distraction from its other work in cities including San Jose and Mountain View.

In response, the county Board of Supervisors last month unanimously agreed to hand over the shelter to the Santa Clara-based Bill Wilson Center in July. The nonprofit is set to receive a two-year contract worth up to $5 million. Once the new provider takes over, the facility at 999 Hamlin Court will transition from sheltering single adults to homeless families.

County officials said they couldn’t find a qualified operator willing to serve homeless adults in a group shelter. Officials said most established local service providers now prefer to operate shelters with private rooms that offer residents more privacy and stability than traditional congregate sites like Hamlin.

However, officials said the Bill Wilson Center is prepared to continue sheltering some single adults through June 2025 as the county works to move current residents at the site to other shelters or housing. Officials estimate there will be around 70 to 80 residents still living there by the time the nonprofit takes over next month. The maximum-stay limit at the shelter is currently 120 days, though residents can ask for extensions.

As the transition gets underway, supervisors this week directed county staff to develop a plan to add more shelter beds in the northern part of the county to offset the loss of shelter space for adults in Sunnyvale.

“The question is, with Hamlin no longer serving single adults, where will they go?” said Supervisor Otto Lee, who represents Sunnyvale, before voting to approve the plan this week.

The county found itself scrambling to find a new shelter operator earlier this year after HomeFirst informed officials it planned to stop managing the facility. This was just days before supervisors appeared ready to accept county homelessness officials’ recommendation to renew the nonprofit’s shelter contract.

Ahead of the vote, supervisors had asked county staff to review the discrimination allegations, which the local NAACP chapter and other community advocacy groups brought to light last fall. Staff responded that no shelter residents or employees had filed discrimination complaints with the county or state and federal civil rights agencies.

The Milpitas-based nonprofit forcefully and repeatedly denied the discrimination claims.

But at county public meetings and in local news reports, five former shelter employees publicly accused HomeFirst of wrongfully firing them after altercations with shelter residents or allegedly violating shelter policies. They claimed non-Black employees involved in similar incidents kept their jobs. Advocates also claimed Black shelter residents at the site had been repeatedly discharged for minor incidents and left to fend for themselves on the street.

During Tuesday’s public meeting, advocates raised fresh concerns about the shelter’s shift to a new service model, including the loss of beds for homeless adults and the county’s decision to pause accepting new adult residents at the site.

“We’re only going to have more elderly, disabled unhoused people as rents keep increasing far faster than Social Security,” said local advocate Kathryn Hedges.

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