Mountain View Voice

News - December 8, 2006

Success in tackling homelessness

As winter gets colder, CSA says new shelter program is working

by Daniel DeBolt

When the city's church-based Alpha Omega homeless shelter closed earlier this year, church members, some of whom helped start the program 17 years ago, expressed mixed feelings about its ending.

But a new "housing first" Alpha Omega program has since been established, and officials say it's already served nearly double the number of homeless people the old shelter did in a year.

"Its going wonderfully well," said Tara Chua, Alpha Omega homelessness services director for the Community Services Agency. "We are able to serve a bigger population than we did in the past. The client case load has more than doubled."

The program does that by providing more than just a walk-in shelter: homeless people who qualify can receive their own housing, as well as assistance in finding a job or in getting government aid.

Maureen Wadiak of CSA said the new program has found housing for 65 homeless people in its first five months. In previous years, the Alpha Omega program served 37 to 42 homeless people, some of whom "fell through the cracks" as they battled unemployment, addictions and domestic violence. The agency is still tracking the success of the new program, which is part of a growing trend to provide the homeless with housing instead of relying solely on temporary shelters.

The Alpha Omega shelter that closed in March was started by local churches joining forces. A unique system was adopted, with the shelter moving to a different church every month.

"It gave our people a much greater appreciation for what homelessness is like," said Jim Gaderlund, pastor at Foothill Covenant Church near Mountain View High School. "They are people you can care about."

The new program provides the homeless with greater assistance in finding a home, negotiating a lease and acquiring the skills needed to stay housed.

Just as they did with the old program, the homeless must go through an interview process to receive help. There are waiting lists for much of the housing, which is in affordable housing developments such as San Antonio Place in Mountain View or in surrounding cities. Chua said rents range from $100 to $700 a month.

Some homeless people — such as Vaun Nelson, profiled in this issue — say they're so set in their ways that they don't even want shelter.

"You'll find that's going to happen a lot," Chua said. "Those who are homeless for a number of years tend to be content with their situation."

Large portions of the homeless population are the newly homeless, living in their cars or on people's couches, Wadiak said. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the fastest growing homeless population is families with children, partly because of the decreased buying power of low-wage jobs and the lack of affordable housing.

E-mail Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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