Santa Clara County, Public Health

Cold Weather Shelters Extend Their Availability by Two Months

Update to original story: from a news release from the Office of Supervisor Dave Cortese, on 3/20/2018

“The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors took steps on Tuesday, March 20, 2018, to establish the County’s only year-round temporary homeless shelter outside of San Jose. The Board unanimously approved a proposal by Supervisor Dave Cortese and Joe Simitian to extend shelter operations at the Sunnyvale HomeFirst Shelter from six months to year-round on a pilot basis, with a report back in December on making the change permanent.”

Cold weather shelters extend operating months 

Life can be a desperate struggle for survival for the chronically homeless, especially when it’s cold and rainy. But this winter, things will be just a little bit easier. For the first time, Santa Clara County’s two main dedicated cold weather shelters will be open for a full six months — up from four months in the past.

In another new development made possible as part of an infusion of additional County money for the cold weather program, up to 50 women and children will be able to lay their heads inside a new, separate shelter dedicated only to them.

HomeFirst Shelters

For more than 20 years, HomeFirst (formerly EHC LifeBuilders) has operated cold weather shelters in Sunnyvale and Gilroy under contract with the County, as well as a large, year-round shelter in San Jose. (Several other agencies run smaller cold weather programs, such as for teens who’ve left home.)

In August, the Board of Supervisors ponied up a total of $4 million in new money for the next four years to keep HomeFirst’s North County and South County cold weather shelters open from Oct. 16 to April 15. The new money raises the total budget for the cold weather program to $10 million. It also expands cold weather haven services to 35 homeless families at the Arturo Ochoa Migrant Center in Gilroy.  And HomeFirst and the site are hustling to open the County-funded women and children’s shelter in Mountain View sometime in December.

Last year, HomeFirst provided services to more than 4,000 people who were homeless or on the brink. The agency’s capacity increases by up to 270 per night in the cold weather shelter season. HomeFirst CEO Andrea Urton expects it will do the same this year, especially with the additional week of service and the new location in Mountain View.

Urton and Michelle Covert, the County’s housing and homeless concerns coordinator, say they’re happy to be able to keep the shelters open longer.

“We definitely believe that the expansion to six months saves lives,” says Covert, noting that the rainy season often extends beyond the core four months. “Remember, a lot of the chronically homeless have compromised health conditions.”

Urton adds: “When you see people who are so cold that they’re shaking or so cold that they’re turning blue, and that person is allowed to come inside and get in a warm bed, we might have saved that person’s life. When you think about people who are self-medicating with alcohol because it’s so challenging to be homeless and so painful, these are the people at highest risk for freezing to death because alcohol numbs you, and they don’t know they’re that cold. It’s a huge health risk.”

Homeless deaths from exposure

Last rainy season, three homeless people died of exposure to the cold, according to a County coroner’s report issued in August.

But in a place whose climate is as mild as Santa Clara County’s, officials say even one such death is too many. That’s why when guests show up at the cold weather shelter drunk or high, they are welcome to have a meal and a place to sleep, as long as they’re able to walk, speak and generally maintain. (There’s no substance use allowed inside.)

All guests must go through a security check before they’re admitted in the late afternoon, and any weapons are checked at the door. Officials make sure the guests, as they’re called to preserve their dignity, are properly vetted and referred for shelter. HomeFirst coordinates the referrals.

All guests must leave after breakfast, rain or shine, unless they’re sick, because the County wants people to engage in productive activities, such as working, job-seeking, looking for housing, and accessing supportive services aimed at getting them on their feet again.

County homeless shelter locations:

  • The 250-bed Boccardo Reception Center in San Jose, is the county’s largest year-round homeless shelter and can add up to 100 additional beds during County-declared inclement weather.
  • The South County Cold Weather Shelter in Gilroy, at the armory, has a capacity of 130 guests, which goes up to 180 in inclement weather.
  • The North County cold weather shelter in Sunnyvale has 125 beds and is expected to expand by 15 when the Board of Supervisors signs off.
  • HomeFirst staff and volunteers from Trinity United Methodist Church in Mountain View are working to open a 50-bed shelter for women and kids at Trinity United Methodist Church, 478 Mercy St., Mountain View. They’re hoping to open Dec. 15 and will close April 15.


Programs serving the homeless are highly dependent on volunteers. Please visit to find out more.


San Jose – Boccardo Reception Center

First come, first served

2011 Little Orchard St., San Jose 95125

Near The Plant shopping center (Monterey Road and Curtner Avenue)



Sunnyvale cold weather shelter

No drop-ins; referral required

999 Hamlin Court, Sunnyvale 94089

Nearest cross streets: Mathilda Avenue and Ross Drive



Gilroy cold weather shelter (at National Guard Armory) – referral required

No drop-ins; referral required

8490 Wren Ave., Gilroy 95020

Near: Las Animas Park



December 7, 2017

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December 2017
Santa Clara County