Despite extra efforts to house them, homeless remain on coast

04/15/2020

Social workers have increased outreach efforts to the homeless in coastal Marin from two to five days a week during the pandemic, but just a small handful of people are newly sheltered. Peter Planteen, who leads a care team for Community Action Marin on the coast, said he has made contact with only around 30 people in the past month; of those, six now have a temporary roof over their heads. West Marin Community Services has provided funds to secure two-week stays for several people at local hotels and for two others to have more permanent housing in the area. Socorro Romo, the nonprofit’s executive director, says the group has limited funds for the effort. “We are giving priority to those who are ill, who have very challenging issues, who have no cars at all,” she said. The remaining people placed by the care team have gone to central Marin, where Health and Human Services has found hotel rooms and is providing delivery meal services and medical care. The county is using a vulnerability assessment to place those most in need. Ashley Hart McIntyre, the homelessness policy analyst for H.H.S., said there are 80 new hotel rooms in eastern Marin currently providing housing to those who were on the streets. That’s still a small portion of the overall homeless population countywide: Last year, the county estimated that 700 people were in need of housing, including 140 on the coast. So far, Marin had not seen an outbreak in Covid-19 cases among the homeless. Ms. McIntyre said the department’s normal work differs from its efforts during the pandemic: “Our work is focused on permanent solutions. Sheltering meets an immediate need but doesn’t address the root of the problem. It’s an important part of the response to homelessness, but the focus has to be on permanent solutions.” Between 2017 and 2019, the homeless population in West Marin nearly doubled, though overall numbers in the county have steadily dropped since 2015. One persistent issue is that resources are concentrated in eastern Marin. Mr. Planteen said that since the outbreak, people seem more willing to go over the hill. “But it’s very hard to get them there,” he said. “We talk to them over and over and over again. We get the vouchers, talk to the hotel. We have people in desperate conditions, but they also have to obey the [social distancing] rules.” Although the county has not put a timeline on the temporary housing, W.M.C.S. has had to do so. The group has put money awarded by the Marin Community Foundation toward the effort, but income streams are suffering: a third of the nonprofit’s income was generated by the thrift store, which is now closed. Until more funding comes through, Ms. Romo can promise most people a two-week stay. “The homeless, this is the last group that everyone has thought of,” she said. “By listening to the news—and this is just my opinion—but this is the last thing that the governor announced. Why? It is very expensive to do this. Maybe $3,000 at least per month per person. [The same money could provide] for a family, or at least a couple, [who are housed].”