New funds allow for more beds, new programs for Marin's homeless

05/02/2019

Money is streaming into Marin this year to bring people off the street, though county officials say getting the word out to homeless people in West Marin is a challenge. Besides the $4.5 million in annual federal funds the county typically receives to address homelessness, another $4.8 million arrived this month from the Homeless Emergency Assistance Program, or HEAP, a state program established in 2018 with a well of $500 million pulled from the general fund. The grant will go largely to Homeward Bound of Marin to add beds to its San Rafael shelter, though a small portion will go to the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Marin for a program to assist newly homeless people. The county is also expecting another $509,000 through a state initiative called the California Emergency Solutions and Housing Program to create more permanent housing options through the Ritter Center in San Rafael. Based on the most recent available data, from 2017, Marin ranks third out of eight Bay Area counties in its percentage of the population experiencing homelessness, with a total of 1,107. Sixty of those people are in West Marin, and 37 of those are in Bolinas. Although Marin’s Health and Human Services department has an ambitious goal of ending homelessness for the county’s veterans and chronically homeless by 2022, addressing the needs of people on the coast is especially difficult. Ashley Hart McIntyre, the homelessness policy analyst for Health and Human Services, said that “people are attached to the community in West Marin,” while most of the county’s services are based in eastern Marin. She went on, “There is also a disillusionment around services, but we have really transformed our care: it’s much more trauma-informed and client-centered. They might be reluctant, not realizing things have changed, which is true throughout the county, though it’s especially hard to get the word out to people in West Marin.” Countywide, there are seven permanent supportive housing projects operated by several groups, including Homeward Bound, Buckelew Programs, the Marin Housing Authority and the Ritter Center. Carrie Sager, the senior program coordinator with H.H.S., said the bulk of Marin’s operating budget comes from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development; this year, HUD provided an additional $186,236 for a new domestic-violence housing project at the Center for Domestic Peace and for a housing locator position at Marin Housing Authority tasked with building relationships with landlords to increase housing stock. The HEAP funding from the state, Ms. Sager said, is a major development. Since the funds must be spent before 2021, the county’s focus is on one-time investments like infrastructure. Homeward Bound has plans for 32 permanent new beds at the Mill Street Center to the tune of $4,500,000. St. Vincent received just over $300,000 for a diversion pilot program that will provide newly homeless people with immediate assistance before they require emergency shelter or more intensive interventions. According to Ms. Sager, this could look like a one-time, $200 gift card to Safeway to ease the strain or buy an extra two weeks to look for a job. Ms. McIntyre said her department is working with local groups to figure out how to connect those without homes on the coast to services that don’t require relocating.