Bascom Library Community Center History
This facility was built to serve an area of San Jose that is without any other public amenities such as parks, playgrounds or recreation spaces. Originally, there was a community center planned. The addition of a library (because District 1 could not locate a site) meant years of delay as a new combined project was developed. Once construction was completed, the site sat unused for years as other facilities maintained limited services during a recession. It was among the last of the facilities brought online.
This neighborhood and the service area for the facility include portions of San Jose’s Strong Neighborhood Initiative (SNI). This program attempted to mitigate through Redevelopment funds the long-standing inequities, lack of access to services and high crime rates that are a direct result of decades of neglect. While other portions of San Jose developed parks, open space, cooperative measures with school districts and other benefits tax payers expect, this neighborhood qualified for additional attention because it had not received any such benefit.
The site is located in a section of District 6 that is a combination of single family homes with a heavy supply of older multi-family housing. Because the multi-family housing is 40-60 years old, the majority of families do not have access to yards or open space. Units are often cited for code enforcement. Many streets are not compliant with current width, sidewalk or park strip development. When the site was opened, the area was considered a Gang Abatement area. The demographics of this area include a high concentration of mono-lingual non-English speaking families.
The neighborhoods are surrounded by multiple freeways, the Los Gatos Creek Trail and include Valley Medical Center’s extended campus. There is little to no retail in the immediate neighborhood, requiring transit use or walking along sidewalks that are not built to current standards. Because of the easy access to freeway and creek land, the neighborhood is surrounded by homeless encampments. Users of services at the VMC clinics and ER who suffer from medical and mental often overflow into the neighborhoods. This became such a problem in Summer 2019 that residents asked the County D4 office to reinstate our meetings with VMC to resolve ongoing issues.
In addition, when the center operated at Grace was closed for health and safety reasons, Bascom was utilized as the temporary site. This meant the site was used as “swing space” for operations usually conducted at another facility, limiting the use of Bascom area residents. There is extensive history of the City of San Jose limiting use of this site “for the greater good” of the city as a whole.
Because this site is still the only publicly operated resource for the community, it is heavily used for recreation, education, community meetings, celebrations and more. It has been the only dependable location for holiday and summer camps for low income families in the neighborhood. In the summer it is the only location people can access during extreme heat waves. It was designed as the “town plaza” for multiple neighborhoods.
The Library and Community Center staff have developed an extraordinary array of programs that serve everybody in the area. Our teen center (which was the highest priority during development of the center) was finally realized. We have community groups from around the area using the site while we enjoyed our summer movie series in the plaza and our many holiday celebrations. The facility was just coming into its own as we intended.
Bascom OWL History
The City of San Jose developed Overnight Warming Locations (OWLS) in 2015. Bascom was utilized as an inclement weather site during the 2015-16 winter season, operating at 14% capacity (30 spaces). In the 2016-17 winter season it operated at 60% capacity (30 spaces). The site was not used in the 2017-18 winter season and during the 2018-19 winter season operated at 78.9% capacity (60 spaces).
These overnight spaces provided a place to sleep, food and snacks. Clients were to leave the facility each morning. This led to neighborhood complaints because potential clients or friends were congregating before the facilities opened at night. In addition, there was no place for clients to go when the inclement weather extended to daytime except add to the clustering around the limited business district.
In the Fall 2019 season, residents were advised the Bascom site would be opened for nightly use through the 2019-20 winter season. Note that the public was not included in the decision making process before sites were chosen.
The public attended meetings prior to the implementation of the 2019-2020 program and expressed concerns regarding previous problems and potential for new ones. The community was promised several things: (1) Minimal impact on existing services and programming via cooperative work with agencies and departments; (2) A Community Advisory Committee (CAC) to meet on a regular basis to address needs and issues; (3) Community access to staff at all times, including security; (4) This would not be a permanent homeless shelter. We were assured this was temporary and would not be expanded.
The program was initiated in Fall 2019 and the CAC met within days of the facility opening. The community continued to not just adjust to the nightly use, the community went out of their way to provide holiday meals at Thanksgiving. We organized a Christmas holiday gift surprise for residents of both Bascom and Roosevelt, distributing 75 backpacks filled with socks, hygiene supplies, food and more. A local business offered laundry services.
What we received in return was a loss of winter holiday camps that served our working families as day care. We lost recreation, education and enrichment programs. Hours of availability for public use were cut. We lost use of the facility to a large degree. We were assured this was all temporary.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began to build, the community knew adjustments would be made. As facilities were slowly closed down, we knew ours would still be used as housing for homeless, that it would be switched to a 24/7 facility. We would not be losing any services or access that other facilities still had access to. The site was “decompressed” in that clients were moved into the gym for better distancing. Mobile shower units were brought onto the site to service the OWL clients and other homeless.
City Manager’s Budget
On May 28, 2019 the CAC was advised that the Bascom OWL was listed in the budget as a site for congregate homeless housing through the end of the calendar year (12/31/20) in the current set up. We were advised that the current referral system wasn’t being used. We were advised that 22 people were ongoing clients of the OWL and “maybe” 9 clients were on site during the day.
The Library staff outlined gradual services that initially require online access and curbside pick-up. While this is new territory for all, there are access concerns for those who are not online. The community center staff advised they had finished refunding fall and winter deposits and were in the process of refunding deposits for summer programs. It should be noted that the use of the facility for full time housing restricts the use when trying to distance people. Bascom is the only site slated for this use in the community center/library system. Besides eliminating programs, there is concern that families will not feel comfortable with the co-use of the site.
The community members of the CAC were uniformly unhappy with the scenario and several key points were brought up:
- The community had been promised full transparency in operations. Developing a budget in this manner was a direct violation of the promises made.
- Virtually closing the site for full time use as a congregate housing site for homeless violates the promises made that this use would be temporary.
- The facility has been essentially off limits to public use, even before COVID-19. The development of a plan to prioritize the congregate housing rather than developing a shared operation that includes the equal community use violates promises made.
- The site will be without direct community benefit for more than one year. Services were cut in Fall 2019 and with this plan through Winter 2020. Even if the intent is to stop the program at the end of 2020, it will take an extensive time to build up programming.
- The financial impact of housing 22 people at the site seems to be an egregious waste of taxpayer dollars, especially since only 9 people are on site during the day. The program was slated to use $1,000,000 in grant money for a six-month program to serve 60 people at two facilities. Bascom’s share would be 50% theoretically. That was for 12 hours of facility use. The current scenario represents 2/3 of the original number being serviced with triple the cost of staffing and other costs.
- Based on information previously supplied, this requires a minimum of two staff members from HomeFirst 24 hours a day, security 24 hours a day and a pro-rated share of supervisory costs. This does not count other costs. It does not count the share of cost with PRNS, Library, etc.
- This proposal ignores the needs of people in the neighborhoods currently living in congregate housing that depend on the facility for services. We have already experienced one week of excess heat, leaving seniors and children vulnerable.
- There are other facilities operated by the city and county that supply congregate shelter for unhoused residents that are not at capacity.
- Promises have already been made and broken.