How Menlo Park combats homelessness from a governmental and non-profit perspective

by Linda Hubbard on July 31, 2019

Editor’s note: As it has done in the past, InMenlo is participating in the S. F. Homeless Project  produced by the San Francisco Chronicle, which is again spotlighting the topic in its editorial coverage this week.

Menlo Park is fortunate to have one of the of the lowest homelessness rates in San Mateo County. A count this past January reported 27 unsheltered people in 2019 compared to 47 in 2017, a decrease of 42%.

It is also the headquarters of one of the most effective non-profits combatting homeless, LifeMoves, which,, as part of its efforts, is working collaboratively with City staff on a major initiative that was introduced to the Menlo Park City Council last March.

LifeMoves serves both San Mateo and Santa Clara counties and provides intensive case management programs along with emergency and interim housing with the goal of helping clients become personally independent. It operates 18 facilities stretching from Daly City to San Jose and, on any given night, feeds, cloths, and houses approximately 750 people, about one-half of whom are children.

CEO Bruce Ives has been at the helm of LifeMoves for four years now, and, working with his staff, has spearheaded new programs including a shelter for LGBQT people and safe parking areas for those living in RVs.

“Homelessness used to be a sign of a neighborhood in decline, but not in the Bay Area,” said Ives. “Rising housing prices are a major contributor. Along with new job creation, rents keep going up. Folks are getting tossed into homelessness by the squeeze.

“Traditionally, the focus to combat homelessness has been building more housing. But there is a growing realization that the crisis is growing so rapidly, we can’t wait. We need to strengthen the safety net with programs around prevention and safe parking.”

One of LifeMoves largest facility is the Maple Street Shelter in Redwood City which provides emergency and transitional houses for single men and women. It has grown from 75 beds to 141 bend in just a couple of year, with a women-only area recently opened. (Pictured top is case manager Mary-Kim Dickson along with client Renata Lamb.)

Earlier this year, the city of Menlo Park named Rhonda Coffman Deputy Community Development Director, and, along with Menlo Park Police Commander Richard Struckman, they are jointly leading the homeless out reach effort.

Coffman brings to the table 18 years of experience in best practices to combat chronic homelessness gleaned in Redwood City.

Currently they are focused on two core areas in the city, downtown and the marsh area southwest of the Dumbarton Bridge They meet with Ives weekly to coordinate efforts.

“Being homeless is not a crime,” said Commander Struckman. “We do get problems with some of the homeless who have public health issues or are using narcotics. The homeless problem landed in police department’s lap [some years ago], but this is a social problem not a police program.”

Rhonda explained their approach, citing the example of a homeless woman named Amanda who, along with multiple shopping carts, has been a visible presence on Santa Cruz Avenue near Evelyn Street.

“Our homeless outreach team includes a psychologist who talks with her a few times a week to build some trust and get her connected to services. Street medicine comes out and sees her as well. Every week, we meet and talk about what progress is made and not made.

“It is a long term care solution for these people. This takes time especially when we are dealing with people with mental illness.”

According to Coffman and Struckman, the number one challenge is having a housing unit available. It’s also tailoring outreach efforts to fit the situation.

“The same approach isn’t going to work for everyone,” said Coffman. “We’re have some financial resources here in Menlo Park. We can be more creative, and, in that respect, we are lucky.”

Photo by Robb Most (c) 2019

One Comment

Peanut b August 19, 2019 at 10:39 pm

Does this mean we can finally do something about the urine smell and homeless people congregating outside Starbucks and Una Mas. Those covered patios are meant for customers but usually house homeless folks. I’m sympathetic but we need better solutions and it sounds like these folks don’t want to go elsewhere. It’s not fair to the rest of MP residents to have our downtown smell like a toilet.

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