Marin County is preparing to put more than $5.6 million in federal grant money to work addressing homelessness.
The money is a tiny slice of the $4 billion allocated in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act to help prevent an outbreak among people experiencing homelessness and very low-income households. It will be spent on street outreach, emergency shelter and rapid rehousing.
Whether homelessness in Marin has increased during the pandemic, and if so by how much, is a matter of conjecture.
“For health and safety reasons, Marin will not be conducting an unsheltered Point in Time Count this year, like all the Bay Area counties except San Mateo,” Benita McLarin, director of Marin’s Health and Human Services Department, wrote in an email. “We are working on a number of alternate ways to measure increases in homelessness.”
Normally, the federal government requires all jurisdictions receiving funding to aid the homeless to conduct a count every two years.
The most recent count conducted on January 28, 2019 found 1,034 people experiencing homelessness in Marin, compared with 1,117 in January 2017, a decrease of more than 7%. Those experiencing chronic homelessness dropped 28% during that time, to 257 people.
African Americans accounted for 17% of Marin’s homeless population despite the fact that only 3% of the county’s population is black. Nineteen percent of the homeless counted identified as Hispanic/Latino, compared to 16% of the general Marin County population who identified as Hispanic/Latino.
On Thursday, county workers took an initial stab at estimating the number of homeless by conducting a count of people living in their cars.
“Often, a vehicle is the first place newly homeless folks go when they’ve lost their housing,” McLarin wrote, “which is why we are prioritizing a vehicle count in the absence of a full Point in Time Count.
“Our service providers are reporting an increase in requests for emergency services particularly from families,” McLarin added. “Demand for family shelter is up (though these folks usually don’t live in encampments and are much less visible), as are other demands for emergency assistance.”
McLarin says, however, that the visibility of encampments is not an indication of an increase in homelessness.
“Our staff is familiar with all of the residents and more than 90% have been homeless in Marin for a long time,” she wrote.
McLarin says Marin’s homeless have been more inclined to reside in encampments during the pandemic because their familiar haunts – libraries, Ritter Center day services and Vincent De Paul Society’s dining hall – are closed due to the risk of infection.
On Feb. 9, when Marin County supervisors formally accepted the grant money, they also approved a $350,000 contract with Community Action Marin and a $253,789 contract with the Downtown Streets Team.
The two nonprofits will use the money to increase outreach efforts to the homeless to help them meet their basic needs and connect them to services and housing.
The Downtown Streets Team will hire a new, two-person team that will concentrate its efforts on San Rafael’s predominantly Latino Canal neighborhood, people living on anchor outs on Richardson Bay, and other areas of Southern Marin.
Community Action Marin’s new two-person team will focus on homeless individuals in North and West Marin; it will share $50,000 of its allocation with North Marin Community Services.
“Right now we have three teams; this will be our fourth,” said Chandra Alexandre, chief executive officer of Community Action Marin. “Our care teams are telling us that needs have increased.”
Alexandre said assistance provided by the teams might include helping homeless individuals with money to rent a room or help getting medication, a driver’s license or connecting with relatives. She said the new team members will be bilingual and bicultural.
Andrew Hening, San Rafael’s Director of Homeless Planning and Outreach, said the Downtown Street Team’s new employees will also be bilingual.
“The contract also carved out some funding for the Streets Team to be able to rent or lease a boat to connect with people on the water,” Hening said.
However, the biggest chunk of the grant money, more than $3.8 million, is expected to be spent on rapid rehousing.
“Rapid rehousing is a form of permanent housing where people are provided with short- to medium-term rental assistance (up to 1 year, under this funding stream) and case management,” McLarin wrote.
On Tuesday, supervisors will be asked to approve a $1.3 million contract with St. Vincent de Paul and a $1.1 million contract with Ritter Center to provide rehousing services. A portion of the St. Vincent’s contract, $25,000, will be for emergency shelter in hotels/motels.
McLarin also expects to ask supervisors’ permission shortly to allocate approximately $450,000 of the grant money to Homeward Bound of Marin to provide emergency shelter services.
And finally, supervisors earlier this month approved allocating more than $762,000 of the grant money to support a contract with Chatholic Charities to provide emergency shelter at the America’s Best Value Inn in Corte Madera.
Marin County purchased the 18-room inn in November with the help of millions of dollars of federal coronavirus relief aid. It’s estimated the Corte Madera housing, which will ultimately convert to permanent supportive housing, will have ongoing operational costs of over $576,000 a year.