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San Mateo County seeks to encourage homeless people to accept offers of shelter

Next Tuesday, Jan. 23, the Board of Supervisors will consider a new approach to encouraging people to accept offers of homeless shelter and support, through a proposed ordinance regulating encampments on public property in the unincorporated area. with the goal of helping make homelessness brief and rare. Photo: Manuel Ortiz P360P

Next Tuesday, January 23, the Board of Supervisors will consider a new approach to encouraging homeless people to accept offers of shelter and support, through a proposed ordinance regulating encampments on public property in the unincorporated area with the goal of helping make homelessness brief and uncommon.

The effort, formally known as "Hopeful Horizons: Empowering Lives Initiative," aims to mitigate fire risks, unsanitary conditions, and public health and safety hazards to benefit both those living in an unregulated encampment and from the surrounding community, with the goal of moving people to shelters.

Under the proposed ordinance, an encampment is defined as a tent, makeshift structure, or collection of belongings in a place not intended for habitation and where the person or persons responsible for it plan to remain in that place with no definite plans to move. .

If the ordinance is adopted, a person contacted for illegally occupying a campground on public property anywhere in the county's unincorporated area can be charged with a misdemeanor after receiving at least two written warnings and two offers of shelter that are rejected. 

It should be noted that anyone charged with a misdemeanor under the ordinance would automatically qualify to participate in appropriate diversion programs offered by the San Mateo County Superior Court, thus avoiding jail time. 

Under the ordinance, an encampment cannot be dismantled unless the county has shelter available for each person living there, so the county monitors bed availability daily and will maintain beds for 72 hours for people once they are vacated. makes the decision to clear a camp.

“This ordinance is not intended to penalize the homeless 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 intention is to encourage our homeless neighbors to accept our offers of shelter and support. We also want to be aware of the public dangers that illegal camping on sidewalks and other locations can create. The goal is to create better opportunities everywhere?

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the county has added 146 permanent supportive housing units and 409 individual units.

“The county has worked hard to implement the goal of achieving zero homelessness, whereby homeless people have access to appropriate shelter opportunities,” Pine said. “This proposal helps incentivize people to take advantage of these opportunities in a compassionate way, while regulating critical operational details.”

 According to the 2022 federally required one-day homeless count, there were 1,808 homeless people countywide, including 1,092 who remained on the streets, in cars and in RVs or tents in encampments, 32 percent of that group was on the streets or in tents.  

The Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that, in 2023, there were 1,859 homeless people in the county. The next one-day homeless count is Thursday, January 25.

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Pamela Cruz
Pamela Cruz
Editor-in-Chief of Peninsula 360 Press. A communicologist by profession, but a journalist and writer by conviction, with more than 10 years of media experience. Specialized in medical and scientific journalism at Harvard and winner of the International Visitors Leadership Program scholarship from the U.S. government.

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