Friday, February 24, 2012

Sobrato House: A Green Solution for Teenage Homelessness in San Jose

Guest Post by Tim Eyre 

At the corner of Third and William Street downtown, there's an attractive yellow-and-green house with a wrap-around porch. In my travels to San Jose over the last two years, I've driven past this intersection several times but never given the building much thought beyond, 'That's a nice looking house.'

As it turns out, it's a life-changing house.

Recently in Oakland, someone sparked a conversation with me about Crossroads, ( an $11 million emergency homeless shelter constructed to green-building standards. It seemed questionable to spend that kind of money on a population of people who may never return the investment, but I kept listening and was soon convinced of the merits. When we show the needy the same sort of care and comforts we would want ourselves, they respond with hope and motivation to reenter society.

Wondering if San Jose had anything similar, I discovered a website for the Sobrato House Youth Center. Of course, I immediately recognized the building.

Relocated from where City Hall now sits in 2008 (and virtually rebuilt, to the tune of $12.8 million), the Sobrato House is an outreach of EHC LifeBuilders ( The 2,500 square foot historic home is flanked by an adjoining 13,000 square foot brand new facility, including nine apartment units, a community room, and a kitchen designed for homeless teenagers and young people.

Santa Clara County is estimated to have over 5,000 people under 18 who experience homelessness at some point during the year, many of whom leave home due to physical or sexual abuse. Leaving young people to fend for themselves on the street after a troubling childhood only asks for more problems, be it drugs or criminal activity. With the Sobrato House, San Jose has found a solution.

In Santa Clara, the Sobrato Family Living Center on Agnew Road offers the same sort of respite. Its' 50 private apartments offer families that would otherwise be on the street a transitional bridge to self-sustenance through stability and a comfortable roof over their head.

Like Crossroads in Oakland, both Sobrato facilities embrace green building principles typically reserved for city government buildings and private businesses.

"All of the lighting is energy efficient, with water-saving laundry facilities and a new HVAC system," explains Anna Bagirov, the Communications Manager for EHC LifeBuilders, adding that they've reduced energy costs by 40 percent since the upgrades in 2008.

Both sites use reclaimed rainwater in their landscaping and feature double-paned window insulation. Most importantly to the residents, they're attractive dwellings that are worth taking pride in, a crucial element to gaining a new start in life.

"The Sobrato House, in particular, is beautiful," says Bagirov. "There's a lot of pride and happiness within these shelters."

In most cities around the country, homeless shelters are dreary, dim places. In that type of environment, it can be almost impossible for a person to find the hope required to make real life changes.

It's refreshing to find an organization like the Sobrato House and EHC Lifebuilders right here in San Jose. When we build shelters for the homeless that those of us more well off would find worthy of our own families, we're on the path to ending homelessness. That's something San Jose can take pride in, and a unique model that will hopefully be replicated elsewhere.


Tim Eyre works in the self storage industry, regularly traveling to see locations like San Jose storage facility. In many locations, like the storage units yard in San Diego, Tim helps his customers store seasonal equipment when it is not being used for outdoor activities or home improvement projects.


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