Bill Silverfarb/Daily Journal
Scott Evans, 47, from South San Francisco has been homeless off and on since 2004. He currently takes shelter at Safe Harbor shelter near the airport.
With rain expected to last through much of the week, San Mateo County is set to activate an inclement weather program to house the chronic homeless who typically shy away from shelters.
The program has been activated for seven nights already in recent weeks and there is an expected higher usage of the program this winter as El Niño promises to bring more rain compared to last year, said Effie Verducci, communications manager for the county’s Human Services Agency.
The county partners with local agencies to provide 383 shelter beds year-round but will activate an additional 38 beds at three shelters as chronically homeless individuals seek a reprieve from cold and wet weather.
The shelters are in South San Francisco, Redwood City and East Palo Alto and are operated by Samaritan House, InnVision/Shelter Network and Project WeHOPE.
Eight to 12 of the 38 extra beds are at or will be at the Safe Harbor shelter in South San Francisco operated by Samaritan House.
The inclement weather beds are usually filled by referrals from South San Francisco police or airport police, said Laura Bent, chief operating officer at Samaritan House.
The individuals the police bring in are often disheveled, unhealthy, have addiction and mental health issues and very little contact with the public, Bent said.
Other clients at the shelter often have to help the chronic homeless that come in for just the one night or two depending on the weather. They make sure they get some warm clothes, scarves, a shower and a hot meal before they are discharged the next day.
“A lot of extra work goes into accommodating the 12 beds,” Bent said.
The inclement weather beds are only activated on bad weather days and the individuals using them typically leave the shelter first thing the next morning and often with a new sleeping bag in hand. Some don’t even spend the entire night even if a police officer brings them in, Bent said.
One of the current clients at Safe Harbor is Scott Evans, 47, from South San Francisco.
He first became homeless in 2004 and accessed a cot and services at the Maple Street Shelter run by InnVision/Shelter Network in Redwood City.
Evans has been housed at Safe Harbor for several months now as the shelter provides ongoing case management services to assist their clients in gaining steady income and permanent housing.
Evans will be released soon.
He spent years couch surfing and living with relatives before making a series of bad choices that got him in trouble with the law.
His outlook on life is much more positive now than it was a year ago, he said.
Some of the chronic homeless do end up accessing Samaritan House’s suite of services and end up with more stable lives — but many do not.
Earlier this year, the county conducted a homeless count that showed the number of individuals living on the streets dropped 47 percent from 2013 to 2015.
The numbers show approximately 689 unsheltered homeless individuals living on streets, in vehicles or in homeless encampments, compared to 1,299 in 2013.
The count found 915 homeless living in emergency shelters, transitional housing, motels and institutions, compared to 982 in 2013.
The count also found not a single child living in the streets.
InnVision/Shelter Network operates Maple Street and 16 other facilities in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties to assist the homeless.
In Menlo Park, it operates the Haven Family House that is open to homeless individuals and their children. It offers one- and two- bedroom units at a remodeled motel at the end of Van Buren Road. It provides child care, free food, computer labs and a host of other services to transition the families into permanent housing.
Out of the 23 families that stay at the shelter, 13 of them include veterans, said Brian Greenberg, vice president of programs and services at InnVision/Shelter Network.
Most are employed but mostly at lower-paying service sector jobs, he said.
A growing number of seniors and veterans are also seeking the agency’s help, he said.
“We try not to turn anyone away,” he said.
Plans are also in place to expand the number of beds at Maple Street from 75 to 140.
Maple Street is east of Highway 101 in Redwood City’s industrial area close to homeless encampments under freeway overpasses.
Near the Docktown Marina, at least two campsites are set up under Highway 101 along Redwood Creek.
Henry Bradford, 51, resides at the encampment and another nearby depending on the weather and his mood.
He recently discovered a new mobile service offered by ProjectWeHOPE called Dignity on Wheels that allows homeless individuals to take showers and have their clothes washed.
He told the Daily Journal that there are a certain number of homeless who simply prefer to live in encampments where they can live by their own rules.
When it gets too wet, though, many will seek shelter at Maple Street, he said.
Project WeHOPE’s East Palo Alto shelter will add 17 inclement weather beds this winter.
Many are referred by the Homeless Outreach Team, which is comprised of law enforcement, county and nonprofit officials.
HOT teams work specifically to try to get the chronic homeless off the streets and into shelters and eventually permanent housing such as the Vendome Hotel in downtown San Mateo that InnVision/Shelter Network operates.
Some have speculated that the region’s housing crisis has led to an exodus of homeless individuals from the county.
Supervisor Dave Pine said after the homeless count numbers were released in March that “there is no reason to think the numbers have dropped so much.”
The county certainly has made great strides to address homelessness but the area’s high cost of living have caused “more and more people with lower incomes to choose not to live here,” he said.
Even individuals with Section 8 housing vouchers are finding it more difficult to find landlords to accept them. Only about 3,600 of the county’s 4,300 vouchers are currently in use.
It prompted the county’s Housing Authority to contract with nonprofit Abode Services to provide a housing locator service for individuals with vouchers who are unable to use them.
The agency provides expertise in helping find leases with landlords, said Vivian Wan, the agency’s associate director.
The agency helps landlords understand the requirements needed to participate in the program.
The priority will be finding housing in San Mateo County, she said.
But the county’s lack of housing in general puts the occupancy rate at about 96 percent, meaning the competition for vacant rentals is fierce.
According to the California Housing Partnership Corporation, San Mateo County needs to build approximately 24,000 affordable homes to for very low- and extremely low-income families to meet the needs of the county’s current workforce.
In the last three years, the county has increase employment by 40,000 workers but only built 3,000 new homes, according to the Housing Leadership Council. The shortage of housing causes horrible traffic, makes recruitment and retention for local businesses difficult and is driving up rents across the county, according to HLC.
The county has an ambitious plan to end homelessness by 2020, an initiative being pushed by County Manager John Maltbie.
In September, the Closing the Jobs/Housing Gap Task Force convened to tackle the housing crisis.
With rents up 50 percent in four years to an average of more than $2,500 a month for a one-bedroom apartment, many low-wage earners can no longer afford to live in the county while a new glut of high-tech workers and other professionals can.
The task force will work over the next year to find ways to preserve and increase housing at all price levels in the county.
For Evans, who will leave Safe Harbor in South San Francisco after the holidays, the next daunting task he faces is finding a place to live.
His grandmother sold their home and moved to North Carolina because of the high cost of living here, he said.
He is in better health now and better spirits but knows that nothing is handed to you.
In the meantime, he is considering dressing up as Santa Claus for an upcoming holiday party at the shelter.
“I made a lot of bad choices and wasted a lot of time,” he said.
The safety and services provided by Safe Harbor has enabled him to focus on his life, he said.
“A closed mouth doesn’t get fed,” he said.
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