San Mateo County officials study ways to end homelessness | Local News

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Ending homelessness in San Mateo County will take a multi-faceted approach involving interim housing, wraparound services and the development of more permanent housing, top county leaders agreed at a town hall hosted by the State Sen. Josh Becker this week.

“The status quo does not work. It doesn’t work for homeless people who are literally dying on the streets, it doesn’t work for the surrounding community and people are looking for new ideas and solutions,” Becker, D-San Mateo, said at a town hall meeting. virtual session entitled “Let’s talk about homelessness”, Wednesday. “I am painfully aware that we have to move faster, that we have to move faster and we have to have faith in our leaders that we can do it, that they tackle it at all levels. … A lot of things are new , but I understand there are reasons for skepticism, but the proof will be in the pudding.

Becker was joined by County Chief Executive Mike Callagy, LifeMoves CEO Aubrey Merriman and DignityMoves Founder Elizabeth Funk for a discussion about how the county and partner agencies are addressing homelessness.

The discussion comes shortly after the county released updated numbers from its one-day homeless count conducted on Feb. 24, which found its homeless population had increased by 20%. A total of 1,092 people were found sleeping on the streets, in tents or in vehicles, compared to 901 three years ago. The number of people staying in shelters also increased, from 611 to 716.

Yet county officials have pledged to end homelessness in the county by the end of the year, a goal titled “Function Zero”, meaning homelessness would be rare, brief and never repeated.

To do this, Callagy said the county has invested in transitional and permanent housing with support from local jurisdictions, $145 million in funding from the state’s Homekey Project and philanthropist John Sobrato. In just over a year, the county purchased five hotels that were converted into housing and secured enough funding and land to develop a modern shipping center in Redwood City.

“It is really the problem of our life. Granted, we didn’t create this situation, but we are able to eliminate what’s happening with homelessness and that’s what we’re trying to do right now,” Callagy said.

Panel participants agreed that the first step to ending homelessness is access to housing. Once housed, other key resources can be provided to residents based on their needs, including job readiness and medical and mental health support.

Another key area that needs to be addressed is deleting records, Merriman said. Without a clear record, unprotected residents with criminal histories face additional hurdles in securing playful employment that may keep them from living on the streets for good.

“One of the things we understand is that people need different levels and types of support, but everyone needs housing,” Merriman said. “It’s easier said than done, but it’s definitely going to take some coordination. … What bothers us is our own inability to see that there is a finish line here that we can get to.

Funk’s role and that of his agency is to help bridge the gap between knowing that temporary housing is needed and building it by finding land where the project can be done at an affordable price. DignityMoves, a LifeMoves spin-off where Funk once served on the board, uses data from public agencies to find where temporary shelter can be placed without worrying neighbors too much.

Placing shelter can be a challenge. San Mateo County officials searched for about a decade before formalizing a land swap with Redwood City that allowed the shipping center project to move forward and those talks were rebuffed by members of the community who argued that the land should be used for a public park while also claiming it was an unsuitable area for shelter given its proximity to a raw materials processing plant.

And every hotel purchase received similar feedback, but with the assurance that the sites would be properly managed, Callagy said many in the community were starting to see the value in hosting the sites.

Funk argued that investing in transitional housing projects is the right thing to do fiscally, given that without stable housing, many who have access to other services are less likely to become self-sufficient in the future. .

“I see it as a puzzle. Every piece is super important and the whole thing is what needs to happen to have the complete picture,” Funk said. “No piece makes the whole puzzle and solves the whole puzzle.”

Becker noted that much is being done at the state level to address homelessness as well. As an example, Becker noted lawmakers are working to advance the Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment Court, CARE Court for short, which would connect people with serious mental illnesses or dependency on a mandatory care plan.

And billions in public funding are also being dedicated to the issue, Becker said, noting that about $3.5 billion is earmarked to ensure jurisdictions have adequate detox spaces, which provide a vital in-between space for people in need of stable housing.

Collaboration at all levels of government and between private and public entities will be key to solving the problem, panelists agreed. Together, they shared the confidence that San Mateo County could serve as a model to replicate in other areas.

“This is a problem of a lifetime and it will take a holistic approach. Everyone needs to get involved if we’re going to be able to solve it,” Callagy said. “If we’re not able to solve it, I don’t know who can. … Not trying is not an option.

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