Pacifica has the 4th largest population of unsheltered homeless people of any city in San Mateo County, according to a survey released this week.
The survey was designed to identify homeless individuals and families, and understand their current situation as a means to ending their homelessness, according to the county’s Human Services Agency.
The total number of homeless people in Pacifica falls well short of those of Redwood City, East Palo Alto and even Menlo Park. That could be because Pacifica does not have a homeless shelter; the nearest one is in South San Francisco.
Of the 1,162 unsheltered homeless individuals found either living in camps, alone or in RVs or cars on the night of Jan. 26, over 8 percent, or 95, were in Pacifica. There were 987 individuals in shelters that night.
It is in the former group that the county saw dramatic increases; volunteers counted 84 cars, 40 vans or RVs and 151 encampments, an 83% increase since 2009.
Pacifica has seen a drastic increase since 2007, said Pacifica Resource Center Director Anita Rees.
In 2007, she said, the resource center, which handles emergency shelter placement for homeless individuals in Pacifica and leads the count here, found seven people in Pacifica who seemed to be homeless. In 2009, that number was 17; about a 243 percent increase. Between 2009 and the 2011 count, the number rose again by nearly 560 percent.
Rees said part of this increase, however, may be due to a more comprehensive system for counting introduced this year in which a formula is used to approximate a truer number of homeless individuals by, just as one example, assuming a certain number of children for every vehicle thought to be occupied by a homeless family.
The Pacifica Resource Center volunteers who did the count also had guides to show them where homeless camps were in Pacifica and the center connected with the and the Department of Public Works this year.
These new improvements to the counting process aside, said Rees, the number of homeless individuals has gone up in San Mateo County because of the economic downturn.
And many times individuals who are homeless are in a transitional phase, and may be without a place to live for a few weeks or a month. Or it may even be that someone is making income, said Rees, but still cannot afford the rent of an apartment. The resource center has handled 60 unduplicated homeless individual cases since July 1 of last year and 19 homeless family cases--only 10 or 15 of those cases were chronic homelessness, she sad.
Rees is hopeful that this week's report will cause more funding to be allocated in the county for homeless sheltering and prevention.
When the report was released, several county officials were present to weigh in on the issue and many details about what homelessness statistically looks like were revealed.
“Almost all of them want to work, but they don’t have the money, clothes or home to get started,” said San Mateo County Supervisor Don Horsley, who, along Board of Supervisors President Carole Groom are the chairs of HOPE, (Housing Our People Effectively), the inter-agency council that combines the efforts of many housing non-profits.
Number of Homeless People by City
City Sheltered Unsheltered Total Redwood City 269 233 501 East Palo Alto 46 385 431 San Mateo 261 68 331 Menlo Park 168 72 240 South San Francisco 91 122 211 Scattered Site Programs 103 0 105 Pacifica 0 95 95 Daly City 38 44 82 Unincorporated 0 47 47 Half Moon Bay 0 41 41 San Bruno 6 14 20 Portola Valley 0 16 16 Airport 0 9 9 San Carlos 0 9 9 Brisbane 5 0 5 Burlingame 0 3 3 Atherton 0 1 1 Belmont 0 1 1 Colma 0 1 1 Millbrae 0 1 1 Foster City 0 0 0 Hillsborough 0 0 0 Wooodside 0 0 0 TOTAL 987 1,162 2,150
The typical homeless person in San Mateo County is an unsheltered single white male with at least one disability; 56 percent suffer from alcohol and other drug-related problems; and 43 percent have chronic health problems. He is unemployed and his primary barriers to employment are a lack of an address and the disability, according to Wendy Goldberg, manager of the Center on Homelessness, which, coordinates homeless services administered throughout the county, including those by non-governmental entities.
Twelve percent are veterans of war. Forty-six percent are considered "chronically" homeless, meaning they are disabled and have been homeless for longer than 12 months or for at least four times in the past 3 years.
Unlike the US Census, which sends neatly packaged forms to residents' doorsteps, counting the homeless is an entirely more complex process.
Based on the Jan. 26 count, 6,737 people will at one point be homeless this year.
Because the homeless are transient, their home city is marked as the one in which the shelter or bedding is located. However, because many live on private property like storage sheds or garages, it is difficult to explicitly identify if people are living in a certain location, Goldberg said. There are also many people who temporarily reside in friends’ or family’s homes.
Despite the increase in homelessness, Goldberg said there was a decrease in chronically homeless people. The number of those living on the street has gone down and the census counters only identified two homeless families living on the streets.
Intervention to End Homelessness
Supervisors Groom and Horsley started the HOPE inter-agency council to combine the efforts of numerous housing organizations that work to help house the homeless.
“Housing, housing, housing,” Wendy Goldberg says. The supervisors agree that the primary way to end homelessness is to provide a variety of affordable housing options.
HOPE and its partner organizations work to see that veterans and disabled residents are receiving the benefits they’re entitled to. Of the disabled, only 13 percent were receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits and only 14 percent were receiving Medi-Cal or Medicare.
“We want to end homelessness amongst veterans in the next five years,” Horsley said. The county is working closely with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The agency works intensely with non-profits whose clients have very high levels of homelessness, or are chronically homeless, by working with alcohol and drug treatment and the criminal justice system.
Every year, the county receives approximately $5.7 million from the federal government to address homeless issues, Goldberg estimated.
The total amount the county spends annually could not be immediately determined because multiple departments like Human Services, Mental Health and Veterans Affairs all contribute to homeless services.
Groom called attention to projects like the Vendome Hotel in San Mateo that allots units for homeless people.
“It helps people like Michelle, who was living in the parking lot of Draeger’s. At first she was absolutely petrified because she had never had a room before and hadn’t bathed in a real bathroom in years,” Groom said. “It took good old-fashioned social work to help her.”
“These people are our citizens,” Horsley said. “They are long-time residents of the county and we want to assist them.”