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San Mateo County proposes “Hopeful Horizons: Empowering Lives Initiative” to address homelessness

San Mateo County, California – On Tuesday, January 23, the Board of Supervisors will look at a new plan to help people who are homeless say yes to shelter and help.

This new rule they’re thinking about, for places in San Mateo County that aren’t part of a city, is all about trying to make homelessness something that doesn’t last long and doesn’t happen often.

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They’re calling this effort “Hopeful Horizons: Empowering Lives Initiative.” It’s about reducing the risk of fires, cleaning up dirty conditions, and making things safer and healthier for everyone. This includes people living without proper housing and those around them. The main goal is to get people into shelters.

According to this plan, an “encampment” means tents, improvised structures, or personal stuff in places not meant for living, where the person or people don’t plan to leave soon.

If this rule goes through, anyone found living illegally on public land in the parts of the county not in a city could face a misdemeanor charge. This can happen after they’ve been warned in writing at least twice and said no to shelter offers at least twice. If someone gets a misdemeanor under this rule, they could join court programs instead of going to jail.

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Also, the county can’t break up an encampment unless they have a shelter spot ready for each person. The county checks every day to see if there are enough shelter spots and will keep a spot open for 72 hours once they decide to clean up an encampment.

“This ordinance is not meant to criminalize homelessness or penalize those who believe there are no other options,” said Board President Warren Slocum who is introducing the proposal with Supervisor Dave Pine.

“Rather, our intent is to encourage our neighbors experiencing homelessness to accept our offers of shelter and support. We also want to be mindful of the public hazards that illegal encampments on sidewalks and elsewhere can create. The goal is to create better opportunities all around.”

The county finds out where people without homes have set up camp through regular contact, including teams that reach out to homeless people and teams that provide medical care on the streets. They also learn about these places from reports by locals or businesses, concerns about health and safety, or ongoing efforts to connect with those living in these camps.

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The Board of Supervisors has always seen ending homelessness as a key goal. To achieve this, the county has made moves like turning five hotels into long-term and temporary homes, creating a top-notch center to help singles and couples, and putting money into services and housing projects that help homeless people find a more stable place to live and increase affordable housing.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak began in March 2020, the county has created 146 new homes with ongoing support and 409 places for individuals.

‘The County has worked hard to implement the goal of functional zero homelessness, whereby individuals experiencing homelessness have access to appropriate shelter opportunities,” Pine said. “This proposal helps incentivize individuals to take advantage of these opportunities in a compassionate way, while also regulating critical operational details.”

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The 2022 official count required by the federal government showed 1,808 people without homes in the county, including 1,092 living on the streets, in cars, RVs, or tents in camps. Actually, 32% of these people were on the streets or in tents.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated that in 2023, there were 1,859 people experiencing homelessness in the county.

The next One-Day Homeless Count is Thursday, Jan. 25.

The Board of Supervisors will meet at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024. The full agenda and link to the Zoom meeting is available at https://sanmateocounty.legistar.com/Calendar.aspx

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