Vendome resident Daniel Brown is overjoyed to have access to a kitchen.
If you drive by the Vendome in downtown San Mateo, you probably can’t tell many of its 16 residents were longtime neighbors who’d been living out of shopping carts and sleeping on benches in the nearby streets.
The Vendome provides housing and case management to help alleviate the problems associated with individuals who have been chronically homeless.
What started out as a pilot program, the success of Vendome has inspired the county to encourage similar facilities in other cities, said Sandra Council, senior management analyst for the city’s Community Development Department.
The high number of merchant complaints, police and emergency calls related to homeless individuals in downtown encouraged a collaborative of the county, city, nonprofit social service providers and the InnVision Shelter Network to form the Homeless Outreach Team.
In 2007, the Redevelopment Agency purchased the 100-year-old property at the corner of Second Avenue and Claremont Street. With city, county, state and federal funds remodeled the building, according to a staff report. Per state requirements, the city is now transferring ownership to InnVision, the current property manager that has a network of homeless, low-cost and family housing facilities throughout the county.
To qualify to live in Vendome, a person has to have been homeless in downtown for multiple years, pay one-third of their income in rent and abide by house rules, said Brian Greenberg, vice president of programs at InnVision.
“The approach is that people who have a long history of homelessness tend to be very untrusting. They may have psychological problems and they may have substance abuse or addictive disorders. We try our best to get people engaged in a relationship with or outreach staff to engage them in services,” Greenberg said.
Instead of the traditional model of giving housing contingent on sobriety, HOT decided to try a different approach.
“This was an alternative way for looking at things … get these folks into housing, with a roof over their heads, get them fed and then you can start to work on their issues or weaknesses,” Council said.
Although residents must abide by the law, they are permitted to have alcohol in their rooms. Many residents have had multiple encounters with police and Vendome allows them to drink in private instead of on the streets, said Robert Anderson, a retired police officer who patrolled downtown and helped start HOT.
“While homelessness is not a crime, some of the behaviors associated with it are,” Anderson said.
Since Vendome opened, the city has reduced its related medical expenses by 85 percent and police expenses by 99 percent, said InnVision spokeswoman Maria Duzon. Vendome benefits local merchants, the city’s budget, and is a lifesaver for many of its residents, Anderson said. Before Vendome, the only tool he had was law enforcement; HOT provided him with more resources to give to those he saw struggling, Anderson said.
“The personally satisfying thing for me was once we got them off the street and into housing, you see them start to get their lives together,” Anderson said.
Richard Lipfin, 47, met Anderson while he was living on the streets, abusing drugs and alcohol and was suffering from mental health disorders. Now that he’s been placed at Vendome, he’s been sober, has access to medication and is grateful to have people who want to see him succeed, Lipfin said. Recently, Anderson gave him a hug, Lipfin said.
“Just because I retired, there’s not an on and off switch where I discontinue these relationships … you maintain these relationships and just try to do what you can to help,” Anderson said.
Daniel Brown, 64, has been living at Vendome for seven months. He had been on the waitlist for two years, living out of a shopping cart and struggling to make the trip to the hospital to receive his diabetes and heart medications, Brown said.
As a homeless person you’re supposed to remain out of sight; now that he has access to a kitchen, a place to shower, food, clothes and a washer and dryer, he finally feels like he has a home, Brown said.
Vendome was an innovative step and other cities are using it as a model to address their chronically homeless populations, Anderson said. Seven years ago, the homeless population used to be the police department’s biggest complaint downtown. Although there are many who still live on the streets, Vendome has made a huge difference for the city and the community, Anderson said.
“It helped the downtown merchants, helped the police department and San Mateo Medical Center,” Anderson said. “But most importantly, it helped these individuals who were on the street and forgotten and helped them get their lives back on track.”
For more information about InnVision Shelter Network and Vendome visit www.ivsn.org
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106