Homeless women and children will have a sanctuary from the cold, wet winter months in Mountain View after city officials agreed Wednesday afternoon to permit a homeless shelter to operate at Trinity United Methodist Church, just in time for the holidays.
The approval, which glided through the administrative zoning hearing on Oct. 25 with no opposition, allows the church to house overnight up to 50 people -- specifically families and single women -- beginning the week of Thanksgiving and running through the end of March. The shelter program also includes restrooms, meals, showers and laundry services.
The shelter will be run by HomeFirst, the same organization that operates the cold weather shelter in Sunnyvale, which has supported North County residents during the winter months since 2015. The costs to run the Mountain View shelter will be paid for by the county to the tune of $350,000 each year through the 2021-22 fiscal year, totaling a commitment of $1.4 million.
Although the Sunnyvale shelter has been invaluable for homeless residents in the region, there's simply too much of a demand for the neighboring city to accommodate everyone. It was frequently packed to the brim, and more than 25 families had to be turned away due to lack of available beds, according to a county staff report.
At the standing room-only hearing on Wednesday, Trinity United Methodist Church Pastor Michael Love said he was grateful that the county, the city and the church could work together and bring much-needed homeless services to an area where many people have struggled with high housing costs. The 50 emergency shelter beds, which will be provided in the sanctuary space of the church, is an important step towards beginning to address the region's "extreme housing crisis," he said.
A 2017 countywide homeless census found that Mountain View's homeless population has tripled over the last four years to 416 people, and the effects are easy to spot. More than 120 vehicle dwellers have been mapped throughout Mountain View -- mostly in RVs along Latham Street, Crisanto Avenue and Shoreline Boulevard -- while others have put together makeshift encampments along Stevens Creek.
After receiving the city's blessing for the shelter by way of a conditional use permit, Love told the Voice he was overjoyed that the church is now able to get the pilot program off the ground and support the "housing relief needs" in the North County area. He said it was a team effort by County Supervisor Joe Simitian, Community Services Agency (CSA) and city and county staff, all of whom poured "many hours into planning, coordination and community outreach" for the shelter plans.
"This has resulted in a significant movement of policy and practice, and is a good indicator of the commitment to our neighbors who are in need of help to re-establish their stability," Love said in an email.
The shelter will operate from 5 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. on weekdays, with extended morning hours on the weekend, and will accept individuals on a referral-only basis. The permit calls on shelter management to prohibit loitering outside of the church, which is located next to single-family homes, and to ensure that the shelter doesn't create trash and debris in and around the church property. An unarmed security guard will be onsite during the shelter hours.
Although similar proposals in Santa Clara County have been shot down by local residents worried about the effects of a homeless shelter in their neighborhood, such opposition never really materialized in the Old Mountain View neighborhood. Simitian told the Voice that both the community and the city of Mountain View have been exceptionally welcoming, and that local residents and businesses around the church acknowledged that the homeless shelter is important, was carefully thought through and well planned. The permit approval was preceded by several community meetings, letters noticing nearby residents and even door-to-door outreach by Simitian's office to make sure everyone knew what was being proposed.
"When you reach out to folks and you listen and are genuinely responsive, you get a good result," Simitian said. "I think that's what we saw at the hearing."
Simitian said he suspects residents were also sympathetic to the idea that the shelter would support homeless families and single women, whom the county has struggled to serve and who have different needs than single men.
Trinity United Methodist Church has already been an important resource for homeless residents for years. The property is home to Hope's Corner, a nonprofit food service that provides free meals to hundreds of needy individuals each Saturday. Both Hope's Corner and HomeFirst are expected to work closely to provide services to the homeless during the shelter months.
Earlier this year, county supervisors approved a $500,000 forgivable loan to help Hope's Corner upgrade its kitchen facilities along with a $200,000 "bridge loan" while the nonprofit waits for community benefit funding. Combined, they would go a long way toward providing meals for residents of the shelter. Simitian said the kitchen could also provide valuable culinary job training for the short-term residents at the shelter.
Construction on the new kitchen has been slow to start, however, so these ambitious plans for onsite cooking won't come to fruition until after this cold weather season, Simitian said.