It was almost exactly a year ago when Anthony Tiggs was going through a rough patch.

His girlfriend had recently passed away, he said, and the soft-spoken, youthful 57-year-old "lost everything," including his shipping job and then the roof over his head.

He migrated from Fresno to the South Bay, where he joined about 2,800 people seeking shelter through EHC LifeBuilders' Cold Weather Shelter Program, which opened its doors for the season Monday night at locations in San Jose, Gilroy and Sunnyvale.

"I was so glad to be out of the cold," he said while helping out at the National Guard Armory, the agency's shelter in Sunnyvale. "They saved my life."

LifeBuilders CEO Jennifer Niklaus said Tiggs, who now lives in a modest San Jose apartment, is a great example of what her group is trying to do: Find out what's keeping people on the streets and get them into permanent housing.

She believes that by partnering with other like-minded organizations as well as the city of San Jose and the Housing Authority of Santa Clara County, it's possible to find a home for all those who are wanting and willing.

At the Boccardo Regional Reception Center, David "Skip" Campbell, 54, a disabled Army veteran, hoped to be placed in a permanent home this week. But he was spending Monday night at the San Jose shelter, which he described as ideal in the interim.


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"You do a little work here and you get three hots and a cot," said Campbell, who was forced to leave his last apartment in San Jose when violence erupted there. "This for me is almost like the Cadillac of shelters."

Niklaus said it all starts when someone comes into the emergency shelter, where they are evaluated and have their needs assessed. From there, a caseworker may be assigned and a plan developed that will get them into a permanent home.

Often the homeless will initially show up for the free hot meals offered at the shelter, or seeking a place to clean up.

She said that for people who have been on the streets for decades, it can take time to foster a relationship.

"They'll say 'The system has failed me for 30 years,'" Niklaus said.

But when it happens, and she arrives at a shelter site to find one of her regulars has a home, it's "my best day."

"It's one more to cross off the list," she said.

Tiggs is one of those who's off the list. He was at the shelter on Monday, but as a volunteer, cheerily helping to set up tables and sleeping mats.

"I came back to give back," Tiggs said, "for all they did for me."



By Eric Kurhi ekurhi@mercurynews.com
COLD WEATHER shelters
The Cold Weather Shelter Program locations are the Boccardo Regional Reception Center, 2011 Little Orchard St., San Jose; the former National Guard Armory at 620 East Maude Ave., Sunnyvale; and the National Guard Armory at 8490 Wren Ave., Gilroy. Beds are allocated through a lottery system at Boccardo and on a first-come, first-served basis in Sunnyvale and Gilroy. Check-in is at 6 p.m., and clients must leave at 6 the next morning. The program serves about 2,800 people each year, with some beds reserved for veterans and people from homeless encampments.