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Family Homelessness Rises

January 18, 2011

January 17, 2011, 03:30 AM By Bill Silverfarb Daily Journal staff

More families are becoming homeless due to the recession, according to a report released last week by the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

The report, The State of Homelessness in America, indicates unemployment, foreclosures, lack of income and high housing costs have led to the increase.

Those aging out of foster care, recently released from jail, forced to double up with other family or friends to share housing or those who do not have insurance are the most likely to go without shelter, according to the report.

The report comes out as San Mateo County prepares to do a homeless census and survey later this month. In 2009, the county counted 1,796 homeless people, with more than 800 of them living on the streets. The county recorded 993 people living in emergency shelters or transitional housing in 2009. About 9 percent of the homeless count represented households with dependent children.

The 2009 homeless census identified about 13 percent fewer homeless people than the previous 2007 homeless census, according to the survey.

Officials are not sure what to expect this year.

Chris Canter, director of development at the Shelter Network, thinks cuts to state programs in Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget could negatively impact the poor.

Brown’s budget proposes to cut $1.5 billion from CalWorks welfare programs, $1.7 billion from Medi-Cal, and $750 million from services geared toward people with developmental disabilities.

Reductions could put a bigger strain on nonprofit agencies, already struggling to provide services in the down economy.

“People are taking longer to find jobs,” Canter said.

On some nights, Shelter Network turns away 30 people from its Maple Street shelter in Redwood City because it does not have enough beds, Canter said.

Some of Shelter Network’s apartments for families have up to nine people living in them currently, Canter said.

“They are sleeping on couches or rollaway beds,” he said.

Cuts to CalWorks, which provides cash assistance and child care for the poor, could put people closer to homelessness, Canter said.

“CalWorks cuts will affect our families reliant on government money for survival,” he said.

Some of Shelter Network’s clients never thought they would be homeless, Canter said.

Veronica Reeves, 23, was employed until November as a food service manager at the University of San Francisco. Last week, she and her two children Marissa, 5, and Marcus, 3, met with Mariajose Terraces, a Shelter Network case manager, to discuss housing options.

Her family has been housed at the First Step for Families Shelter in San Mateo while she looks for work.

While Reeves and her children put a face to homelessness in the county, Canter wants the public to know that funding social service programs is not about “kindness.”

“These programs should be supported not because it is the compassionate thing to do but because it is the right thing to do economically,” he said.

The programs, Canter said, keep the vulnerable working, out of jail and out of hospitals.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness report indicates overall homelessness is up 3 percent and family homelessness up 4 percent from 2008 to 2009.

The San Mateo County Human Services Agency’s Center on Homelessness coordinates $5.6 million in federal funding to support shelter services, according to the county.

The county contributes $1.6 million to help fund five shelter providers including Shelter Network, Samaritan House, InnVision, the WeHOPE Warming Shelter and Home and Hope.

The county also supports special family and inclement weather programs. The inclement weather program creates additional shelter beds during hazardous weather conditions. With the severe cold weather this past year, the program was activated 15  times, serving 82 clients. In comparison, the program had served 11 clients at this time last year, according to the county.

The county is set to take its next homeless count Jan. 27. The census helps to spell out the problem of homelessness in the county and to secure state and federal funding for social service programs geared toward the homeless.

“The general population doesn’t really see the problem,” Canter said. “We understand the government has to cut back. We just hope it doesn’t affect us.”

Bill Silverfarb can be reached by e-mail: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.

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