Seeking shelter from the cold

Two months ago, Nate Jackson and his wife, Sami, were looking forward to the birth of their second child.

Their living situation was less than ideal, however. With Nate out of work, they were crowded into a two-bedroom apartment with six other adults in East Palo Alto.

Sami said she called 411 and asked for a homeless shelter. They were directed to Shelter Network — a Burlingame-based nonprofit that offers housing and support services to Bay Area individuals and families.

The couple were first placed into a motel and then moved into an apartment complex in Redwood City.

A week later, Emariyae was born.

“Without this, we would’ve ended up on the streets,” Nate said. “We still want a place, but this is a good start.”

The Jacksons are not alone. Even two-parent households are reaching out for help in the slow economy — and the dead of winter — according to Michelle Jackson, the executive director of Shelter Network, who is not related to the couple.

“It’s unbelievably bad for folks,” she said. “When the economy tanks, it affects [social] services first, and they are always the last to recover.”

Shelter Network is getting thousands of calls each week for help, Jackson said. The organization is able to house up to 220 people at its shelters and homes, which are located throughout the county.

During the winter months, more people seek shelter to get in from the cold and rain, Jackson said.

Kevin Blodgett, 53, has been homeless for nearly five years, ever since his landscaping business folded. He now sleeps in the camper attached to his Ford F150 to keep out of the cold.

“If I didn’t have my camper, I would be at a shelter,” he said.  “We need places like [shelters], especially when it gets cold like it did in December. No one should be left outside in that weather.”

According to a count taken in January 2009, there were 1,796 homeless people in San Mateo County. Those numbers do not reflect the current economy, said Wendy Goldberg, the manager of the county’s homeless services.

“The number of people accessing programs now is significant,” she said.

Jackson said she expects to receive even more requests for help in the new year.  Shelter Network, however, is working with limited funds, she said.

“You have to do the best with what you got,” she said. “You help one person at a time and one household at a time.”

Supply and demand

The need for beds in San Mateo County outweighs availability.

2,064 homeless in January 2007
1,796 homeless in January 2009
13 percent drop
220 households available through Shelter Network

Source: San Mateo County Human Services Agency

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