Addressing Homelessness in Redwood City

In Redwood City, the City Council has a long-standing commitment to support our unhoused and housing insecure residents to provide services and emergency housing, while addressing concerns about public health, environmental impacts and public safety. The City’s inter-departmental Housing and Homeless Innovation Team continues to look at ways to pro-actively address these impacts.

While we have undertaken a number of initiatives to provide services, basic needs, safe spaces and emergency housing, we know there is more work to do. This Blog provides an update on some of the City’s recent efforts and plans for the near future.

Anyone who resides in Redwood City — whether in a house, apartment, RV or on our streets — is a resident, is part of our community, and we care about you.

What Does Homelessness in Redwood City Look Like?

Each year, the San Mateo County Homeless Census and Survey conducts a One Day Homeless Count. The results provide one source of data, among many others, to help the County and its partners assess how to best serve homeless households and assist them with returning to housing as quickly as possible.

As indicated in the chart below, Redwood City consistently has either the highest number of unsheltered homeless or is one of the top three jurisdictions with the highest number of unsheltered homeless in San Mateo County:

In addition, the January 2019 Countywide One Day Count reported a 127% increase in people living in RVs. Note: Redwood City’s commercial vehicle parking code was amended in 2018 which inadvertently allowed overnight parking of RVs on City streets. The City has since amended its code again in Fall 2020 to correct this and established a Safe Parking Program for RVs in the City.

It should also be noted that in order to relieve jail and prison overcrowding to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 among inmates, over the past year, many individuals were released early throughout the state. Some of these individuals ended up with difficulty finding housing.

Homeless Community Encampments

Various City departments are involved with mitigation of the impact of homeless community encampments — to protect all members of the community from harm, keep garbage and other refuge levels down, mitigate environmental impacts, and minimize the risk of fires. Since January 2021, Public Works Services staff have conducted 15 homeless encampment clean-ups, yielding 173 cubic yards of trash collection.

The City’s local non-profit partners (LifeMoves, Project WeHope, Street Life Ministries, Downtown Street’s Team (DST), Street Medicine) conduct regular outreach to individuals in each of the encampments, offering both basic services as well as options for emergency housing and long-term housing.

In order to gain a better understanding of the current unsheltered population living in encampments, City staff together with Redwood City Homeless Outreach and Services Partners conducted an encampment census on April 30, 2021 in order to inform the City’s continuing efforts to combat homelessness in our community. City staff and nonprofit partners identified 100 homeless residents living in encampments across the City.

One of the particular challenges of carrying out mitigation efforts is the fact that many of the homeless encampments in the City are actually on State of California property (CalTrans) — outside of Redwood City’s jurisdiction.

Recently, CalTrans has agreed to work with the City on addressing health and safety concerns at three hotspot locations:

· Veterans Blvd/Chestnut/Woodside Road (encampments under both sides of 101)

· Woodside Road off Middlefield (near Burger King)

· On-ramp area of Woodside Road at Hazel

City staff is working to solidify this partnership with CalTrans.

Challenges and Limitations with Police Response to Homeless Encampments

The Police Department often fields questions from the community asking what can be done to mitigate the impact of the encampments and the RVs in the neighborhoods where they are located. The Police Department has had a comprehensive homeless outreach program in place since 2016 and Police Officers routinely offer to connect homeless individuals with housing and other resources to assist them with getting into a better living situation.

The encampments that are of concern to the community present a more challenging problem, particularly if the encampment is on publicly owned land or outside of the City’s jurisdiction.

The first, and simplest scenario, is when the encampment is located on private property. If the property owner wants encampments or individuals removed they can simply request the Police Department notify the individuals that they are trespassing and give them the opportunity to leave.

The most significant limitations occur with respect to publicly owned land, stemming from a 2018 decision by the Federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Martin v. City of Boise, which prohibits the City from enforcing any law related to sleeping on or occupying public property unless the City can first demonstrate there is shelter available not only for the person occupying the particular land at issue but for all homeless individuals within the City.

The most common situation involves encampments along easements and property controlled by Caltrans, along the freeways and off-ramps, and along parts of Woodside Road (State Route 84) and El Camino Real (State Route 82). In these situations, the City must rely on Caltrans to initiate any action and we may only operate in a support role. While Caltrans has statewide responsibilities with limited resources and often cannot act as quickly or consistently as the community would like, Caltrans will be conducting clean-ups this week and staff will provide an update in a future blog post.

Providing Paths into Permanent Housing

In October 2020, the City officially launched a two-year Temporary RV Safe Parking Program in tandem with the City’s prohibition of overnight parking of RVs on City streets.

The Goals of the Temporary RV Safe Parking Program (Safe Parking Program) are:

· Assist RV residents to transition into permanent housing

· Assist RV residents to obtain needed social and/or employment services to support their transition to permanent housing

· Reduce/eliminate RV residency-related impacts on neighborhoods and businesses

· Eliminate RV residency-related environmental and public health impacts

· Reduce the costs and staff time related to RV residency-related clean-up and response to call-outs

The Temporary RV Safe Parking Program, operated by LifeMoves, includes both the City’s Safe Parking Site at 1402 Maple Street (for 40 RV Households) and on Street Permitted Parking for approved participants. Approximately 70 Households continue to participate in the program. Of those participating in the program:

· 100% were parking their RV on the street in Redwood City at the time of entry in the program

· 85% were Redwood City residents prior to living in their RV

· 93% were San Mateo County residents prior to living in their RV

· 17% are families with children under 18

· 14% are households with one or more members age 60+

· 46% are households with one or more member with a disability

Under this program, we have successfully shifted the presence of unsheltered households living in RVs on the street from a high of 140 RVs per night to an average of 25–35 per night and 8 RV households have transitioned into permanent housing.

Program participants have begun the process of transitioning into permanent housing, taking advantage of housing opportunities available through the County Housing Crisis Resolution System.

Before and After of Offstad Drive

Successful Partnership with Downtown Streets Team

The City invited Downtown Streets Team (DST) to come into Redwood City to provide homeless individuals the opportunity to develop job skills through volunteering on teams working to clean up and beautify the downtown and other areas with Redwood City assisting those same individuals to transition into long-term employment and housing. While DST has been effectively providing this service — even in the context of the pandemic — their role and work in Redwood City has evolved with DST partnering with the City in servicing port-a-potties and handwashing stations, supporting RV “hot spot” clean-ups as part of their regular clean-ups prior to the launching of the Temporary RV Safe Parking Program, supporting homeless encampment clean-ups, and providing outreach services to homeless individuals, especially those in encampments

DST Highlights through March 2021:

· 27 current Downtown Streets Team members (all currently or formerly unsheltered individuals); total of 86 unduplicated DST members

· 8 team members placed in jobs

· 8 team members housed

· 18,319 volunteer hours by Downtown Streets Team members

· 67,944 gallons of trash/recycling collected

· 7 major multi-day encampment clean-ups at the request of the City

· Partnered with 26 people living in local encampments by providing weekly encampment waste services

· Provided resources and service connections to over 150 non-Team Members

Before and after of cleanup at Veterans/Woodside

Providing Basic Needs During COVID-19

With the health and economic crisis created by COVID19, the City has focused on maintaining essential services to support vulnerable members of our community — including those at risk of becoming homeless due to the economic impact of COVID19 and homeless members of our community:

· Provided over $3.3 million in emergency rental assistance for over 1,020 households unable to pay rent.

· Implemented safety modifications to continue to provide human services, including emergency food, homeless support services, rental assistance, and other critical services at our Fair Oaks Community Center

· Homeless support services provide referrals to shelter and housing, shower and laundry services in partnership with Dignity on Wheels twice a week, shower services at Hoover Pool Facility, daily distribution of food and hygiene bags in partnership with St. Vincent de Paul, Sunday “lunch to go” program in partnership Sandwiches on Sunday group.

· Placed 16 portable restrooms and 20 handwashing stations at identified homeless and RV areas around the City

· Installed a potable water faucet at Veterans Boulevard and Chestnut Street

From March 2020 to March 2021, Fair Oaks Community Center has provided homeless services to 1,373 unduplicated individuals in 789 unduplicated households, including 183 families with children

Funding to Address Homelessness

Since 2019, the City Council has taken the leadership to invest an unprecedented $3.5 million in one-time funding towards addressing homelessness in our community over a three-year period — including funding for mitigation efforts, Downtown Streets Team, and the Temporary RV Safe Parking Program. This is above and beyond annual funding of approximately $750,000 per year in General Fund and Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to support homeless services in Redwood City. It is also in addition to the $1.8 million in the general fund, affordable housing fund, and CDBG funding the City Council approved for COVID-19 Rent Relief to prevent homelessness in our community due to the economic impact of COVID-19.

How Can You Help?

If you see a homeless individual who might need services, you can tell them to call (650) 780–7500 or go to the Fair Oaks Community Center for services. Or you can call (650) 780–7500 and provide the location of the individual so that a homeless outreach worker can try to reach out to that individual to offer services.

If you see homeless encampments or other areas needing cleanup, notify the Police Department by contacting (650) 780–7118. Let the dispatcher know where the encampment is located, with as much detail as possible. If there is a medical, fire, or other emergencies, dial 9–1–1. Keep in mind non-emergency encampment clean-up requests will take time to address, as department personnel may need to post eviction notices around the area, and then need to coordinate with Public Works Services to schedule cleanup. Care needs to be given to the people living in the encampments.

You can also use the MyRWC app where you can submit information about homeless encampments or other areas needing clean-ups, including using a pinpoint to identify the exact area that needs to be addressed.

If you are able, you can also donate your time to local nonprofits, such as LiveMoves or Street Life Ministries, Samaritan House, or the Downtown Streets Team to help support our homeless residents.

Join the Conversation

On May 10, the City Council will hold a Study Session on Homeless Initiatives. At this meeting, staff will present a draft work plan, which proposes to significantly reduce homelessness in Redwood City over the next two years — addressing both impacts of increased homelessness and supporting unsheltered Redwood City residents to transition back to permanent housing.

Visit www.redwoodcity.org/councilmeetings for the agenda, staff report and Zoom information.

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