When Hurricane Katrina survivor Jimmie Cosey came to the Bay Area from Louisiana last December, he said he wasn’t sure what to do when he found a number of homeless shelters packed and without available beds.
Fortunately, Cosey, like many other homeless in San Mateo County, received a voucher from county officials for a night’s stay in a motel, just as long as he promised to turn up the next morning to sign into a shelter. At the motel, he was able to get regular showers and meals and store his belongings while interviewing for jobs, Cosey said.
“I’m grateful [the voucher system was] here — I’m not sure what I would have done otherwise,” Cosey said.
With roughly 1,400 homeless and roughly 60 emergency shelter beds each night, it can be tough for people to find a warm place to sleep, especially in the winter, county Supervisor Jerry Hill said.
The pilot voucher system, dubbed the Early Entry Shelter Program, launched in April 2007 with $25,000 in seed money from San Mateo County, program manager Teri Chin said. In the first six months, the Fair Oaks Community Center-based program helped 148 people find shelter, up from 81 in the same six months of 2006.
Since then, it’s garnered $10,000 from the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and another $25,000 in county funds to operate through the end of June, and Chin hopes to go after more grant money.
“It’s meant to be a bridge to shelter on the very first day they go looking … because [if they don’t get something], they get discouraged,” Chin said. “And theyhave to come in early the next day to get into the shelter — which is facilitated by having gotten a good night’s sleep.”
To qualify for a motel voucher, an individual must be committed to entering the county’s shelter system, from which they can transition into jobs and permanent housing, Chin said. Cosey has since found a job and an apartment with a roommate, and returned to Fair Oaks recently for help finding a place of his own.
The Early Entry to Shelter program is just one of many efforts in the county’s 10-year plan to end homelessness, Hill said. In other efforts, San Mateo recently purchased the Vendome Hotel to provide low-income residences, and county leaders are helping Redwood City and Half Moon Bay look at similar prospects.