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San Mateo County aims to end homelessness by 2022

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A Bay Area county has made a bold pledge to end homelessness — by the end of 2022.

Getting everyone currently living on the streets into a home in the next nine months may sound like places like San Francisco or Los Angeles that have struggled with the problem for decades and where tens of thousands of people are homeless.

But this is San Mateo County of 760,000, where the latest count of homeless people in one night showed 900 people on the streets and another 600 in shelters — a lower population than some LA neighborhoods.

Using federal funds from the CARES Act and state homekey funds, the county has purchased hotels and similar buildings to convert into temporary and permanent housing. The county closed a fourth hotel in the last week and a fifth will come online in early April.

By the end of the year, 500 new units are to be added.

What seems like a pipe dream elsewhere feels achievable here.

“We’re calling this the year that San Mateo County will end homelessness. That’s a lofty goal, don’t get me wrong. That is very grand. But we think we can do it,” said Mike Callagy, county manager. “We want to be the first to end homelessness in every county in California.”

It’s unclear how well San Mateo County’s plan could be replicated in more dense urban areas. The most recent LA County homeless census, conducted in 2020, found that 66,436 people were homeless.

“What’s missing in Los Angeles is that there isn’t a coordinated plan between the city, county, the nonprofit sector, the civic community and the business community,” said Miguel Santana, president and chief executive officer of the Weingart Foundation. “There’s a lot of good work going on, a lot of actors doing their best, but it’s all happening in isolation, with no real endgame or coordination.”

If San Mateo County “really takes the bull by the horns and establishes a coordinated, accountable, transparent, data-driven system based on best practices with a level of urgency and clear accountability, then I believe they will achieve that goal.” be able. ‘ Santana said.

San Mateo County, which is about 30 miles south of San Francisco, doesn’t come cheap. According to Redfin, the average house price is $1.6 million, and rent for a one-bedroom apartment can go up to $3,000 a month.

It’s so expensive that in some pockets, “four or five families live in a house just to try and pay the rent,” said Laura Bent, chief operating officer of Samaritan House, a nonprofit organization that provides services and resources to Thousands of low-income people. Income and Homeless Residents of San Mateo County.

The problem, she said, became even more apparent during the pandemic, when more people faced financial difficulties. A large portion of the homeless, Bent said, “are working-class people who just can’t afford to live in the Bay Area.”

“Our goal is to really destigmatize homelessness and make people understand that these are really people who were your neighbors,” Bent said. “Our policy here at Samaritan House is that neighbors come together to help neighbors and if we all put our hands under it and all get involved, we can help people make things happen.”

Samaritan House is part of a nationwide effort to push homelessness to “functional zero,” which Callagy says would mean having a roof over their heads for anyone trying to get in off the streets.

The county’s Human Services Agency uploaded a video titled “Our Year Working Together to End Homelessness” in late February. In it, Callagy called this the highest priority for himself and the Supervisory Board.

Near Santa Clara County announced a plan last year to end family homelessness by 2025 — a more modest goal in a county with about 10,000 people without shelter.

Callagy said it’s important to set a schedule because “you can’t change anything if you don’t have a goal.”

“There is urgency here. There’s nothing dignified, there’s nothing constructive about letting people live on the side of freeways, letting people live on streams,” Callagy said. “We need to treat these people better as a society. We live in one of the most expensive places in the world and it is difficult for people with good jobs to find housing here.”

With the funds provided by the federal and state governments, we are “absolutely in the right direction,” said Bent.

After receiving $33 million in Homekey funding in November 2020, the county acquired the Pacific Inn in Redwood City for temporary housing for people affected by homelessness and the TownePlace Suites Hotel in Redwood Shores for permanent senior housing .

Theodore DeWilde, 59, lives at a newer animal shelter in the county. DeWilde, who grew up in the county, has wrestled with substance abuse issues but is now 10 months sober.

Samaritan House helped him qualify for a permanent housing voucher. If it weren’t for the nonprofit, he said, “I don’t know where all this would have ended up.”

“I wish everyone else could have the gift that we have in San Mateo County,” DeWilde said. “They have everything for you and they care.”

Shores Landing, formerly TownePlace Suites, now houses more than 90 seniors in studios and one-bedroom apartments. Callagy said residents “are thriving in their new surroundings.”

The district is using an additional $55.3 million Homekey grant to build and operate a 240-unit navigation center in Redwood City. Callagy said they would “try to make the impossible possible” and have the center up and running by the end of the year.

Earlier this month while inspecting new housing complexes in the county, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-San Mateo) said. Chronicle of San Francisco that the result was “phenomenal”.

“There are many counties where they hesitated, but that didn’t happen here,” Speier told the newspaper. “This is a sustainable use of federal funds because San Mateo County saw an opportunity in a crisis.”

In the case of a residential complex in Half Moon Bay that opened six months ago, 30 people have already moved to more permanent housing, according to Callagy. The long-term goal is for emergency accommodation to be eliminated and replaced by affordable housing.

San Mateo County residents and workers appear optimistic about the future in their own area and the ability of other areas to provide shelter for homeless people.

“Obviously, in large urban cities, where there is a tremendous need for support, more resources are needed,” Bent said. “But I think you can take this as an example and replicate it and extend it to make things work in different countries across the country.”

Callagy said he believes this is achievable elsewhere, as long as it’s “scaled to address the issue.”

“Our goal is a very lofty goal, but we believe we can certainly achieve it given the resources we have right now and the commitment we have from everyone in the county,” he said. “If we can do it, I think anyone can.”

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-03-20/san-mateo-county-wants-to-end-homelessness-in-2022 San Mateo County aims to end homelessness by 2022

Dais Johnston

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