Gilroyan eyes a haven for the homeless

Jim Currier stands in his warehouse at 8425 Monterey St. that he

Last December, Gilroy resident Jim Currier saw a homeless man
standing in the cold outside McDonald’s.

I gave him my coat,

he remembered,

then went home and thought about it.

The encounter was the final straw compelling Currier, a
volunteer involved with the National Guard Armory on Wren Avenue
and St. Joseph’s Family Center on Church Street for several years,
to see if he could aid the city in establishing a permanent
homeless shelter. It is something that’s been attempted in Gilroy
previously without success.
Last December, Gilroy resident Jim Currier saw a homeless man standing in the cold outside McDonald’s.

“I gave him my coat,” he remembered, “then went home and thought about it.”

The encounter was the final straw compelling Currier, a volunteer involved with the National Guard Armory on Wren Avenue and St. Joseph’s Family Center on Church Street for several years, to see if he could aid the city in establishing a permanent homeless shelter. It is something that’s been attempted in Gilroy previously without success.

For the owner of Flowstar, Inc., a company at 6800 Silacci Way that creates modular cleanrooms, it’s a practical matter of seeing a need and having the means to help fill it.

Currier owns a 42,500-square-foot industrial structure at 8425 Monterey St.

Of that, he has between 15,000 to 20,000-square-feet of superfluous space.

“I can’t see people freezing to death outside when I have an empty building,” he rationed.

Currier has since teamed up with the Gilroy Homeless Task Force. Along with city officials, the task force will gauge if his venue is the right place structurally and financially for a permanent shelter.

Though he’s offering his rent-ready building to the city free of charge for five years – a $300,000 value – Gilroy Police Chief Denise Turner said operating costs estimated between $600,000 to $1 million a year for a facility accommodating 200 people is a mega hurdle.

“The purpose of that donation is to help facilitate a homeless shelter,” Currier said Thursday.

He joked the effort has turned into a full-time job.

He pulled out a project binder thicker than a dictionary and thumbed through it, opening to a bullet list with his building’s pros and challenges.

It’s near a Valley Transportation Authority bus route, two churches, Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous and a recycling center. It’s also isolated from single-family dwellings, retail areas and hotels.

The structure has electrical and plumbing, but is still in need of insulation, heating, air conditioning, bathrooms, a kitchen, beds, sprinkler system and external upgrades, which Currier said could cost between $300,000 to $500,000 depending on donations from industry donors and material suppliers.

“We can’t do it all with our donation,” he said, “but we can help get it going.”

Councilman Dion Bracco said for too long the City of Gilroy has demonstrated a hands-off approach to the armory, which is open from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

“San Jose ships people down here to be housed, but they don’t send the money that should be coming right along with them,” said Bracco, who belongs to the Gilroy Homeless Task Force subcommittee formed specifically to focus on developing a permanent shelter.

“It’s not right that Gilroy always gets treated like the red-headed stepchild of the Santa Clara County.”

He said the city has been using the building at 8490 Wren Avenue, which he candidly described as “incompetent,” as a shelter since 1987.

Its original purpose, he reminded, was to only be used as a temporary/emergency shelter.

Turner agreed an alternative solution would be nice. She mentioned the armory has a capacity for 120 people, and said last year it maxed out on several occasions.

“Gilroy kind of gets the leftovers,” Bracco said. “The reports that I get coming out of the (armory) shelter are that the accommodations are less than desirable. I’ve talked to families that are actually afraid to go stay there.”

Bracco said providing security at the armory isn’t easy as it is open to the public and “pretty much anyone can walk up to it.”

As he gave a tour of his roomy warehouse – constructed in the ’50s and resembling an airplane hangar defined by high, wood beam ceilings, faded tin walls and smooth concrete flooring – Currier explained it was once a manufacturing business that produced machine parts during past wars.

He purchased the edifice in 1995 to house some of his company’s equipment but no longer needed the extra space by 2006. Since then, he’s allowed various groups to utilize the venue such as the South County Derby Girls, The Salvation Army and Sober Graduation Night. The city’s antique fire engine was stored there as well.

Envisioning what could be, Currier began pointing to different areas.

“Maybe one-third of the space for storage,” he said, indicating to the area farthest from the entrance. He said this could include food donations, clothing, blankets and various supplies.

He suggested the middle area could become the actual shelter with beds, showers, a small kitchen area and laundry service.

Currier thought the area closest to the entrance could be a One-Stop Homeless Prevention Center – a place that aids people in getting back on their feet.

A One-Stop Center, such as the two in San Jose, is a centralized resource office including case managers and representatives from various agencies such as housing, medical, continued education, employment, mental health, Social Security and youth services.

“It’s pretty hard to find a job if you don’t have an address and phone number for an employer to call you,” said Bracco, who pointed out One-Stop Centers are proven to work.

In five years, Currier and his wife would like to retire. He said they’d be willing to rent the warehouse for its base value excluding the value of the upgrades.

“We’re not trying to profit from this,” he reiterated.

“I don’t think the city would own it, or buy it,” said Turner over the phone Thursday, but pointed out the nonprofit that ends up running it, such as South County Housing or EHC LifeBuilders, might.

“People are willing to put the work in and clear the way to make something like this happen,” Turner said.

She added the biggest issue would be working out a private nonprofit partnership between Currier and whatever agency assumes responsibility for the shelter.

Funding also needs to be addressed. It could come from a combination of sources including federal, state and private grants, Bracco said.

“There’s a lot of funding out there,” he said. “We just have to go find it.”

He maintained if Currier’s building doesn’t work out, “Jim has started the snowball rolling. Sometimes it just needs a spark.”

Currier said things could progress in a staged effect, starting with a small foothold and growing – but said it will require effort from people with a heart and conscience.

“We need to do it as a community as opposed to waiting for the state to get it solved for us,” he said, glancing around the interior.

Shafts of sun struck the bare concrete in scattered patches of light.

“That’s the bottom line.”

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