Pacifica Has 4th Largest Population of Unsheltered Homeless In County

The number has increased by nearly 1,360 percent since 2007, according to report.

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.”

Deb Wong May 17, 2011 at 01:15 PM
A longtime friend of my husband has been homeless in Pacifica for decades, but doesn't wish to be helped, beyond a few dollars for food. I shouldn't be surprised, but am that so many reside in Pacifica.
Lilly May 17, 2011 at 04:27 PM
I saw the headline..."Pacifica has the largest population..." and clicked on it expecting I was going to read about dolphins or whales or goldfish...or SOMETHING lovely.....I am going back to NOT reading the news. Please include stories of homeless that have been helped or stories about people helping the homeless if you are going to bombard your readers with such despair.
Camden Swita May 17, 2011 at 05:11 PM
I've thought about starting a "Good News" section. Do you have a tip to start it off, Lilly?
Heather Tanner May 17, 2011 at 08:16 PM
You could talk about all the great work the resource center does and people who have been helped by them who are back on their feet. It doesn't seem as hopeless if there is a point to it all. I have seen quite a few homeless in Pacifica - I guess you have to know where to look. They keep to themselves, mostly. There was a whole family camping out just under Skyline Blvd. in the trees next to the freeway. They were there for awhile and one day the police came and rounded them up. I know all too well how easy it is to get close to the line. Paycheck to paycheck is the way a lot of us live now.
Rocky May 17, 2011 at 08:27 PM
I've known several homeless people in Pacifica. You have to know where to look. Some are in vehicles, some are in remote places. They would prefer you not know they're there so of course they're not easy to find.
Gabriela Segovia-McGahan May 18, 2011 at 01:20 AM
"How many paychecks are you away from living in your car with no way home?" That's a very good question and one that is touched on in this book: http://www.amazon.com/Nickel-Dimed-Not-Getting-America/dp/0805063897 Speaking from personal experience, I can say that the number of homeless families is usually quite underreported. My mother was a single parent and did the best she could but even that was not enough. And you learn how to hide in plain sight. You might be looking at someone who is homeless and not even know it. As Rocky states, "you have to know where to look. They would prefer you know know they're there". I'm glad you wrote this article. First, you have to identify the problem. Then you can move on to solutions. Many people out there are concerned about the environment and yet have no sense of social responsibility. They'll advocate for animals or plants but look past their fellow man. I'm sure there are organizations in Pacifica that are doing the heavy work of lifting people out of dire circumstances and that Patch will interview them as a follow up to this article.
Calliope Konstantine May 27, 2011 at 03:46 AM
There's a group by the creek near the convalescent home, there's a group in the trees on the bike trail by the beach, there's a group by the Park Mall shopping center, there's individuals who might be in the undeveloped space between homes, there's people on the hillsides, in the trees, behind buildings- and that is just the south end of town.
Lionel Emde May 27, 2011 at 04:40 AM
Gosh Lilly, I wish living in the USA was about "something lovely" these days. Best to start knowing when to duck.
James Goodell June 07, 2013 at 07:50 PM
Please note that there is an error in the seventh paragraph as to how the percentage of homeless people has increased. To calculate an increase or decrease over time, subtract the old figure from the new figure to derive the absolute change, then divide this number by the old figure and multiply by 100 to express the increase (a positive number) or decrease (a negative number) from the old value as a percentage. For example: in your report, the 7 homeless people counted in 2007 should be subtracted from the 17 counted in 2009 to give the absolute increase of 10 homeless people, which is divided by the old value of 7 to give 1.43, which is multiplied by 100 to indicate the correct increase of 143%, not 243% as reported. I believe you took a shortcut to make this calculation by simply dividing the new number by the old number, but then forgot to subtract one, which represents the starting point. A good reference for all kinds of calculations is The Economist Numbers Guide, published by The Economist magazine.


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