Hope, Mercy, and Love: Winter shelter for the homeless Opens in Mountain View

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                        
December 21, 2017


Expanded season at Sunnyvale shelter

A shelter for homeless women and families at the corner of Hope and Mercy Streets, made possible by Pastor Love and his parishioners, with a helping hand from Mr. Shepherd? Better than a feel-good Hollywood movie, it’s North County’s newest cold weather shelter, opening Saturday, December 23rd, at Trinity United Methodist Church.

“People need a place to go when the weather is cold and wet, it’s as simple as that,” says Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, who led the effort to provide a critically needed winter shelter in Mountain View, where homelessness has tripled in the past four years.

“We all remember the tragic winter in 2013 when four homeless men lost their lives due to exposure in a single week,” adds Simitian. “Having these shelters available throughout the cold season is key to making sure that doesn’t happen again.”

With temperatures dropping and a waiting list of more than 300 for the next closest winter shelter, in Sunnyvale, potential Mountain View shelter clients are looking forward to a safe, warm place to sleep each night, a hot shower, and dinner and breakfast guaranteed through April 15.

The sanctuary at Trinity United Methodist Church (TUMC) – an active worship space for the congregation – will be re-purposed each evening, providing up to 50 adults and children with cots and bedding, meals and access to showers.

HomeFirst, a Milpitas-based organization that has been operating the County’s cold weather shelters since 1987, will also run the Mountain View shelter, which will house single women and families from the Mountain View and North County Area that have been referred by non-profit partner agencies. Mountain View based Community Services Agency (CSA) will provide onsite resource connections and case management. “CSA is an ideal choice,” said Simitian. ”They have deep roots in the community and really know our local residents.”

"This is what happens when community, civic leadership and public benefit organizations work together,” said Andrea Urton, CEO of HomeFirst.  “The synergy and pragmatic partnership of this project is exactly what HomeFirst does.  We are grateful for this opportunity to bring 50 women and children in from the cold.”

“First and foremost, I’m gratified to see the hard work by so many different folks produce such a good result. A new shelter in North County will provide both comfort and safety this cold-weather season,” says Simitian.

“When members of a community step up to help their neighbors, everyone wins,” said Mountain View Mayor Ken Rosenberg. “The opening of this much-needed shelter is a testament to both the determination of County and City officials and the compassion of our faith-based residents. I couldn’t be prouder of the charitable spirit being demonstrated here today.”

TUMC Pastor Michael Love didn’t hesitate when Simitian asked if the church would be willing to host a cold weather shelter. “I said yes right away, knowing my congregation,” Love says. “We were eager, but not qualified. We’ve received a lot of help from committed partners to make this happen. We’re delighted to be working with HomeFirst. They have so much expertise and credibility.”

With a “small but mighty” congregation of about 80 people, Love sees his church as an “incubator” with a number of non-profits using the sanctuary space to benefit the community. “Our service missions line up,” he says. “The work of community is caring for those neighbors who find themselves in need.”

One of those non-profits is Hope’s Corner, a thriving Saturday breakfast program hosted by TUMC, in partnership with the Los Altos United Methodist Church. Hope’s Corner has served more than 50,000 meals since the program started in 2011. In 2015, the organization partnered with TUMC to build showers for the homeless on site. Two mornings a week, free hot showers are available, along with clean socks, underwear, and toiletries.

By 2016, with about 200 people showing up for breakfast every Saturday, Hope’s Corner had outgrown TUMC’s small Fellowship Hall. The congregation renovated its sanctuary, replacing fixed wood pews with moveable chairs – a step that would help pave the way for the cold weather shelter.

The idea for a winter shelter started in October 2016 when a community member invited Simitian to visit Hope’s Corner. Simitian learned about the effort to expand the meal program by building a resource center at TUMC, including a full commercial kitchen.

Hope’s Corner relies solely on volunteers for shopping, meal prep, and food delivery. “Catering a meal for a couple hundred people from our Los Altos site is logistically very challenging,” says Leslie Carmichael, president of the Hope’s Corner Board of Directors. “We have dedicated people cooking on Fridays. On Saturdays, volunteers come in at six in the morning, reheat food and take it to Mountain View. It takes another two cars and more people to take pans back and run them through a commercial dishwasher.”

Simitian – who called Hope’s Corner “the best kept secret in Mountain View” – saw an opportunity to leverage vital community resources. “Expanding the food program seemed like a great idea. Then I thought, how about starting with a homeless shelter, and using the new kitchen for a job-training program? There are so many ‘Help Wanted’ signs at restaurants on neighboring Castro Street.” Once the kitchen is completed, job training for the restaurant and hospitality industry will be provided by another local non-profit, Downtown Streets Team.

In January, Simitian gathered representatives from Hope’s Corner, TUMC, and Community Services Agency (CSA) to discuss his multi-pronged approach.

“We were very supportive,” says Tom Myers, Executive Director of CSA, which serves Mountain View, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills. “Our clients are all low income, about to face homelessness or are homeless, or they’re the working poor and barely able to squeak by with assistance of food programs.

“More people in our area are living in poverty, more people are qualifying for our programs,” Myers adds. “We’re hoping the shelter is really going to make a difference in getting women and families off the street. “ As part of the creation of the Hope & Mercy Resource Center at TUMC, CSA will be getting additional office space to work with clients on site.

In June, Simitian proposed funding for the job-training program once the Hope’s Corner kitchen is built, and began holding community meetings to discuss the shelter and solicit input. Letters were sent to all households and businesses near the shelter site, and Simitian’s staff went door to door in the neighborhood to make sure residents were aware of the proposal.

Simitian also solicited the help of Bank of the West Chairman Michael Shepherd in providing overnight parking across the street from the shelter for clients and staff.

“This was crucial given the shelter’s location in a busy downtown,” Simitian says. “Mr. Shepherd and his Bank of the West staff graciously welcomed the idea.”

Mountain View’s shelter will follow the referral-only entry system piloted by HomeFirst in Sunnyvale and Gilroy last year. Once clients have been carefully screened and accepted into the shelter, as long as they follow the rules, they have a bed for the season, unlike a “first come, first served” model.

“A referral system provides shelter guests the relief of having a guaranteed bed each night. This leads to reduced stress, increased stability, and improves consistency between guests and case workers,” says Rene Ramirez, HomeFirst Chief Operating Officer. “Additionally, this eliminates the need for shelter guests to congregate in the neighborhood in order to secure a good place in line each night.”

In August, the Board of Supervisors allocated  $500,000 to assist with the Hope & Mercy Resource Center construction (expected to start in early 2018), as well as shelter restroom and laundry facilities at TUMC, and $200,000 in bridge loans. The total project still requires considerable additional funding, and talks are under way to find a donor to complete the Resource Center. Because of the County’s outreach efforts, the shelter had zero opposition.

“Supervisor Simitian’s office has been amazing. He’s a good friend of our agency and non-profit organizations in the North County,” Myers says. “He’s a past recipient of our Hometown Hero Award, because of his efforts on behalf of people living in poverty in this part of the county.”

More than 400 people are homeless in Mountain View, according to the County’s 2017 Homeless Census and Survey, triple the number in 2013. Surveyors encountered people sleeping in cars and RVs, and others in makeshift encampments in abandoned properties, creek beds, and other places vulnerable to the elements and crime. The Mountain View shelter’s opening, originally scheduled for November 27, was delayed to complete installation of fire safety equipment.

Throughout the shelter’s inaugural season, County and city staff will continue to meet with representatives from HomeFirst, Hope’s Corner, and TUMC to “polish” the program model, says Pastor Love: “There are other faith communities thinking about ways to help out of their congregational setting. It’s pretty much a big question mark until you can see it in action. We’ll learn as we go and carry it forward.”

Simitian has also pushed to expand the 2017-2018 season at the North County’s only other cold weather shelter, in Sunnyvale. This year the shelter, with 125 beds, opened six weeks earlier, on October 16, and will close two weeks later, on April 15, 2018 (providing six months of shelter rather than four). By Thanksgiving the waiting list topped 300.

“I would be lost without this place (the Sunnyvale Shelter),” says 32-year-old Nikki, a mother of five who was referred to the shelter at the beginning of November. A victim of domestic violence and trafficking, Nikki (a nickname), uses a wheelchair and requires oxygen, and three of her children have special needs. “This is a stable place for us until April. I’m grateful for that. We’re off the streets, out of the bad weather. We’re warm. The whole staff has been great. You get supported the minute you walk through that door. They’ve done so much to help me and my family.”

Another Sunnyvale shelter resident, Michele, 52, became homeless in 2009, evicted while undergoing treatment for breast cancer. Since then Michele (who asked to use only her first name) had been sleeping on the streets, or riding the bus all night. “This shelter is a blessing for me. I would have still been out there,” she says. “Being homeless as a woman, it’s really dangerous. You’re broke, you’re vulnerable. In 2014 I was assaulted, kicked in the mouth. It’s so demoralizing.”

Like Nikki, Michele is eager to find stable housing. Currently unemployed and on disability, she would also like to return to school to improve her job prospects. “I’m three semesters shy of getting my AA degree in business management. But I can’t go back if I’m homeless,” she says.

“We’re all working toward long-term, systemic solutions to end homelessness entirely in Santa Clara County. That won’t happen overnight,” says Simitian.

“But a cold weather shelter can be more than just a Band-Aid,” Simitian adds. “It can provide sufficient stabilization for some clients to find the long-term housing they need. While they struggle to find housing, many of these people end up living unsheltered again. Taking away the burden of looking for a safe place to rest every night frees precious time and energy to be redirected to finding long-term housing.”

“When everyone does their part, we can do so much more,” said Simitian. “We’ve got two churches, one bank, four non-profits, a caring community, and a can-do city government all working with the County to make this happen. That’s the way it ought to be.”



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