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Nonprofit Providers to Stop Operating Homeless Shelters After Discrimination Allegations

Homeless non-profit provider HomeFirst is set to stop operating its Sunnyvale location in June, after facing numerous discrimination allegations against Black employees. In the coming weeks, the Santa Clara Board will be voting on whether other homeless shelters will continue to receive funding.

HomeFirst has been operating in Santa Clara County since 2018, where they have utilized close to $40 million in budget to oversee the facility, most of which is from the government.

In late fall, the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People brought up discrimination allegations regarding the firing of five Black employees. The former employees had allegedly been fired for altercations with shelter residents and policy violations. They accused HomeFirst of failing to fire other non-Black employees for similar violations in the past.

Advocates also accused HomeFirst of repeatedly discharging Black shelter residents for minor incidents, while leaving other shelter residents alone.

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors was set to vote on HomeFirst’s contract extension, but was stopped just days before by HomeFirst’s own message.

“The environment within the community has been unfortunately based on a small number of uninformed voices, and we felt that continuing to operate the shelter was a distraction from our other important work,” René Ramirez, HomeFirst’s chief operating officer, said to the San José Spotlight. He believes that an environment that perpetuates misinformation makes it difficult for work to be worth it, especially when they may require partnerships to resolve larger challenges. This ultimately led to HomeFirst deciding to back out of their Sunnyvale location.

After June, another organization will take over supervision of the shelter and HomeFirst will divert their efforts back to other locations, such as their original Milpitas sections.

This is not the first time HomeFirst has had issues in Sunnyvale. Early last fall, their $400,000 contract was not renewed for five shelter beds in San Jose. This was primarily due to concerns with shelter bed usage and outreach services, but also concerns about the general effectiveness of homeless shelters. With homelessness numbers in Santa Clara County continuing to rise every year, and few homeless shelter residents even being able to move to housing, the potency of homeless shelters has been a concern. HomeFirst’s situation has only perpetuated a government notion that something needs to change. In the future, different systems may be discovered to solve this problem. Hopefully, these methods may be able to contribute to the homeless issue currently plaguing the San Jose region.

However, for now, the Board is continuing to vote on HomeFirst funding for shelters around the area and for street outreach.

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Brian Kuo
Brian Kuo, Writer

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