Final construction is completed on a row of housing units at LifeMoves Mountain View, a modular housing community, on June 8, 2021. The site, part of California's Homekey program, provides temporary housing and resources to people in the city who are currently homeless. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)
Clyde Julian landed on Mountain View's streets in November 2020. He used to live with his wife and two kids in Roseville, north of Sacramento, but after a domestic dispute, moved to the heart of Silicon Valley to stay with his brother in a trailer park community.
But the community had strict rules about long-term guests, and without other options to fall back on, Julian started living on the streets.
"Living on the streets, not knowing if you're going to wake up the next day, it was just hard sleeping on the outside, sometimes without blankets, in the freezing cold," he said.
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Over the next six months, Julian gained 60 pounds and developed a myriad of health issues. But he caught a break after being referred to LifeMoves, a South Bay housing nonprofit. And in May, he was among the first to move into the organization's new modular housing site.
"I'm just glad to be here. I mean, everything is great out here," Julian said. "Better than staying out on the streets."
LifeMoves Mountain View, as it's called, is part of Homekey, a statewide program that in just the last year has produced nearly 6,000 new units of housing at 94 different sites across the state. While the majority of the program’s new sites are hotel and motel conversions, they also include apartment buildings and tiny homes, in addition to former vacation rentals, mobile homes and single-family homes.
LifeMoves worked with the city to build modular housing on an empty industrial parking lot. The prefabricated units were built in a factory and assembled on site. Joanne Price, LifeMoves' vice president of real estate and operations, says modular housing was much cheaper and faster to build: The entire site came together in nine months.
"[Hotels] still need renovation, so they may be built already, but then it's really hard to modify hotels when you're occupying them," she said. "Rapid housing, like the modular [we built] with Homekey, can be purchased and installed within a matter of months."
Christina Dickerson, who sits on the LifeMoves' board, says the site is also more customizable than typical brick-and-mortar models, and its layout is optimized for the services LifeMoves offers.
"So not only is it cost-effective, but it's flexible, which allows cities that we partner with to redevelop as is needed or change the type of housing that is needed in a particular area," Dickerson said. “Brick-and-mortar infrastructure is more expensive.”
The site, which expects to receive ongoing funding from Santa Clara County and corporate donors after support from the state dries up, resembles neat rows of shipping containers. Close to the entrance are family units with private bathrooms, and a nearby playground. Behind that is a communal kitchen, which provides three meals a day, and a small hall where LifeMoves plans to offer job fairs, movie nights and other social activities for residents.
The nonprofit also provides access to supportive services, including mental health treatment, financial literacy and job training.
"Every client that is homeless has got there by a different reason, and we need to unravel that reason and connect that client with the right resources," Price said. "Be it health care, be it social services, be it connection to jobs, employment, reuniting with family."
Toward the back of the site are the single units — where Julian is now staying. Each one consists of a narrow room with a bed and a desk.
"Now I can just relax and be calm and see my next step," Julian said.
"Right now, it's just a peace of mind for me to relax here and get my mind cleared up," he added. "Next would be to get back to work, hopefully to get my own place and have my two little ones come live with me here."
The site can house up to 124 people at a time, but only temporarily — intended as a launching point for those who need some help getting back on their feet. In contrast to some other Homekey sites, where tenants can stay for long periods, and in some cases, permanently, Julian will only be able to stay here for three to four months.
Dickerson says that short-term stay is by design. "There are people who are going to go from our place into permanent supportive housing because they will forever need the support," she said. "But there's a whole lot of people who will be able to live on their own again."
Part of LifeMoves' goal is to help its clients find permanent housing before they depart. But that concerns some housing advocates, like Lenny Siegel, Mountain View’s former mayor, who fears program participants will be forced to move elsewhere.
"And elsewhere means far from Mountain View because housing in Mountain View is too expensive for people who don't have an income," Siegel said. "In Mountain View, whether you're owning a home or even renting, you have to have a six-figure income."
A 2019 survey tallied more than 600 homeless people in Mountain View, including people living in RVs and oversized vehicles. Last November, voters in the city passed Measure C, which will soon ban most oversized vehicles from parking on the majority of the city's residential streets.
Siegel is convinced the city's homeless population has grown during the coronavirus pandemic, and says he’s concerned many in this group won't benefit from the new Homekey site.
"I think some people in the city expect that [the site’s] going to make a dent in our vehicle resident population, our motor-home population, and the evidence I've seen suggests it won't work for that," he said.
Mountain View is also working on other permanent housing projects for low-income people, including refurbishing the Crestview Hotel and developing the Lot 12 project on an empty parking lot downtown, which will include a six-story apartment complex.
For its part, LifeMoves officials say they want to house as many people as possible, and hope they can serve those living in RVs and oversized vehicles. But for now, they want to focus on helping people like Julian, who they say more urgently need shelter.
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