Mountain View’s first homeless shelter: Bringing women and families in from the cold

Located in a church sanctuary at the corner of Hope and Mercy Streets, Mountain View’s first cold weather homeless shelter opened in December 2017.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian led a community effort to open the County-sponsored shelter, adding to the critical safety net in the North County.

“People need a place to go when the weather is cold and wet, it’s as simple as that,” said Simitian, noting that homelessness in Mountain View tripled in the four years leading to the shelter’s opening.

More than 400 people in the city are homeless, sleeping in cars and RVs, as well as makeshift encampments in abandoned properties, creek beds, and other places vulnerable to the elements and crime, according to the County’s 2017 Homeless Census and Survey. The waiting list for the next closest cold weather shelter, in Sunnyvale, numbered in the hundreds each night.

“A new shelter in North County provides both comfort and safety for those who need it most,” Simitian said. “I’m gratified to see the hard work by so many different folks produce such a good result.”

From late November through the end of March, the sanctuary at Trinity United Methodist Church (TUMC) is transformed each evening from an active worship space into a shelter with cots and bedding for 50 single women and families with children. Dinner, breakfast, and hot showers are also provided, and the Community Services Agency of Mountain View and Los Altos (CSA) offers onsite case management and resource connections.

Mountain View’s shelter follows the referral-only entry system piloted locally by HomeFirst, a Milpitas-based nonprofit that has been operating the County’s cold weather shelters since 1980. Partner agencies screen Mountain View and North County clients, and once accepted into the shelter, they have a bed for the season, unlike a “first come, first served” model. In its first season, the shelter housed members of 69 households.

The idea for a winter shelter in Mountain View gained momentum in 2016 when a community member invited Simitian to visit Hope’s Corner, a thriving one-day-a-week meal program hosted by TUMC. On Saturdays, hundreds of individuals are served a hot breakfast by Hope’s Corner volunteers, who prepare the food offsite and transport it to the church.

Simitian learned about the community’s desire to build a full commercial kitchen at the church – which would allow Hope’s Corner to serve more meals – and saw an opportunity to leverage vital community resources.

With food insecurity over 25 percent and increasing in Santa Clara County, “expanding the food program seemed like a great idea,” Simitian said. “But I thought, how about starting a homeless shelter too, and using the new kitchen for a job-training program as well? There are so many ‘Help Wanted’ signs at restaurants on neighboring Castro Street.”

In January 2017, Simitian gathered representatives from Hope’s Corner, TUMC, and CSA. He also solicited the help of Bank of the West officials in providing overnight parking across the street from the shelter for clients and staff. All were enthusiastic.

Because of Simitian’s outreach efforts, which included community meetings and walking door-to-door to discuss the shelter idea with neighbors and business owners, the proposal had zero opposition.

In August 2017, as part of a larger funding contract with HomeFirst, the Board of Supervisors allocated funds to run the Mountain View shelter for four years. At Simitian’s request, the Board also approved funds to install a fire alarm system before the shelter opened, and to assist with construction of the commercial kitchen, which is scheduled for completion in early 2019.

Former TUMC pastor Michael Love and his congregation saw their church as an “incubator,” hosting a number of non-profits to benefit the community. “Our service missions line up,” Love said. “The work of community is caring for those neighbors who find themselves in need.”

Bringing the full complement of services together under one roof, however, required considerable additional funding. Simitian approached the local business community, and in July, 2018, announced a $1 million grant from Google to help support a complete suite of services for the homeless and disadvantaged at TUMC:

  • The cold weather shelter, operating throughout the four-month cold weather season;
  • A dramatically expanded meal program, run by Hope’s Corner;
  • Restaurant and hospitality industry job training using the new state-of-the-art commercial kitchen, facilitated by Downtown Streets Team;
  • Facilities to expand access to free showers;
  • A Family Resource Center offering parenting classes and educational activities for families with young children, operated by Community Health Awareness Council; and,
  • On site case management to help clients move out of homelessness, provided by Community Services Agency.

“With County leadership and funding, Google’s help, and the Church as host, these non-profit providers will serve thousands of meals, offer job-training, provide shelter, and care for homeless and low-income folks in the North County,” Simitian said. “Private sector, public sector, community non-profits and the faith community – everybody doing their part, doing together what none of us could do alone.”

“As our region continues to prosper, people of modest means are finding it harder and harder to make ends meet,” Simitian added. “Having a single location where folks can get a meal, find a warm place to lay their heads, and get job-training will be a true game changer.”

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