City of Redwood City Homeless Outreach and Encampment Clean Up Efforts
Ensuring housing for all in our community is a top priority for the City; it is also a long-term challenge. In the near term, we are working to provide services and emergency housing to people who need them and to limit use of outdoor spaces for living. City departments are working together to assist our homeless community while addressing concerns about sanitation and blight. This blog provides an update on City efforts surrounding homelessness.
Over the last four years, the City has been implementing a comprehensive Homeless Outreach Program. The Program recognizes that enforcement-based approaches are not always the best way to address challenges associated with chronic homelessness, and that solutions depend on many factors and numerous stakeholders. This blog provides an update on the City’s efforts to support our homeless community and address community concerns over homeless encampments.
While our public safety staff most frequently interact with our homeless residents, and they are trained to play a constructive role in mitigating the challenges that homelessness presents, the City takes a multi-departmental approach to addressing homelessness.
The City’s key goals in addressing homelessness are to:
· Assist homeless residents who are involuntarily without resources
· Facilitate optimal collaboration between public safety staff and other service providers
· Minimize the need for physical force when interacting with homeless individuals
· Ensure the safety of homeless residents through emergency medical response, fire suppression operations, and fire origination cause investigations
· Fairly and effectively address criminal and disruptive conduct, as well as respond to public safety concerns
· Reduce sanitation hazards and blight created by encampments
· Facilitate connections between homeless veterans and available resources
· Assist in identifying a pathway to permanent housing
What Does Homelessness in Redwood City Look Like?
Each year, the San Mateo County Homeless Census and Survey conducts a One Day Homeless Count. On January 24, 2018, the County conducted a ‘mini count’ and identified that Redwood City was home to 143, or 31%, of the 467 unsheltered homeless individuals that day. While homelessness is rising in San Mateo County and Redwood City, there has been a significant increase in the number of people living in Recreational Vehicles (RVs) and cars. A new count was conducted on January 30, 2019. On that evening, there were 221 of 901, or 25%, people experiencing unsheltered homelessness living in Redwood City. The largest increase from 2017 to 2019 was the number of people counted living in RVs (218–494), while the number of people on the street increased a moderate amount (127–157), and people sleeping in cars and tents/encampments decreased (95–66). The City is working with government agencies and local organizations to assist individuals and families experiencing homelessness or are on the verge of homelessness.
For more information about the County’s 2019 One Day Homeless Count and Survey, go here.
Steps Taken to Cleanup and Provide Services
The City of Redwood City and Bay Area at large are facing a crisis of homelessness and individuals and families living in vehicles. The City is well aware of the rising number of people living in their vehicles and is currently studying best practices related to supporting those people and resolving associated issues. The City Council established an Ad Hoc Committee to explore a potential safe parking program. In spring 2020, it is expected that a report based on these findings will be presented to the full City Council.
To address specific encampments, the City of Redwood City must navigate a rigorous process. Under state law, a strict notification period must be followed and staff must coordinate with local property owners to perform the cleanup simultaneous to the occupants vacating the site. While City staff make a concerted effort to offer alternate housing options and support services to those individuals who occupy these encampments, often times these services are declined, the residents instead choose to remain homeless and either return to the area or establish an alternate encampment nearby.
While there is no quick answer to this growing issue in our region, the City is working diligently on innovative ways to address homeless-related concerns while simultaneously offering supportive services to those in need.
Over the past several months, City staff has taken steps to ensure that services are continually offered to homeless residents, while addressing community concerns about public safety, public right-of-way, blight and sanitation. The Fire, Police and Public Works Services Departments worked together and collaborated with other county and state agencies to respond to immediate emergency situations, including a brush fire associated with an encampment on the north side of Woodside Road adjacent to Shasta Street. They also addressed non-emergency issues such as sanitation and blight.
In August 2019, the Police and Public Works Services Departments coordinated debris removal associated with five homeless encampments in several areas of the City. They removed 50 cubic yards of trash using utility trucks, trailers and backhoes. This required 46 hours of staff time.
During the same period, the Fire Department responded to 63 calls for service on issues related to homelessness. Police Officers connected with 24 homeless individuals, and made five shelter/assistance referrals, two shelter placements, one transitional housing placement and one recovery/rehab referral. While addressing issues like safety, public right-of-way, blight and sanitation, the City also assists our homeless residents with direct services and referrals for housing placement, health care, transportation services, shower and laundry facilities, and more at the Fair Oaks Community Center — serving 11 homeless families and 93 homeless individuals in August 2019. In Redwood City and San Mateo County, there are 25 homelessness services and programs beyond the Fair Oaks Community Center that support the homeless community. In Fiscal Year 2018–19, the City budgeted $734,500 towards these programs and services, and set aside $750,000 to fund additional homelessness/housing services on a one-time basis.
By taking a holistic approach to the challenges of homelessness, we can better meet the needs of all of our residents.
Homeless Community Outreach
Helping individuals move out of chronic homelessness requires a team effort. The Redwood City Police Department trains employees to play a constructive role in mitigating the challenges of homelessness, and to connect homeless individuals with services whenever possible, including services provided by the City at the Fair Oaks Community Center. At least one homeless liaison officer, a specially trained officer who takes the lead on connecting homeless individuals with resources and social services, complements each patrol team. These homeless liaison officers meet regularly with members of the San Mateo County Homeless Outreach Teams, placement service providers and mental health service providers to ensure officers remain aware of current opportunities to place homeless individuals in short-term, mid-term and permanent housing.
In addition to the services already provided at the Fair Oaks Community Center, the Redwood City Public Library offers social service “office hours” at the Downtown Library. Community members seeking help with housing, mental health or barriers to assistance can visit the Downtown Library during the following days and times.
The Police Department also coordinates with Street Life Ministries, an organization that serves the homeless and at-risk populations in the Mid-Peninsula. Street Life Ministries also provides hot meals and clothing. By forming relationships with homeless members of the community and providing them with resources, Redwood City Police Department staff strive to help these community members move out of homeless encampments and receive support services.
City staff take an active role in monitoring and cleaning up homeless encampments. Cleaning up encampments is complex and the approach is different depending on whether the property is City-owned, privately owned or State-owned. This is an ongoing issue but generally, the Police Department’s Community Coordinating Activities Team and Public Works Services Department staff coordinate the cleanup of encampments. Efforts to maintain these areas protect all members of the community from harm and seek to keep garbage and other refuse levels down.
The Redwood City Fire Department responds to fires in encampments and fire crews provide emergency medical services to those injured. Homeless community members that need medical attention at local hospitals receive other support services as well. The Fire Department investigates all fires in encampments to determine the cause of fires and reduce future fire risk. The fire crews work with homeless community members to address these risks as much as possible. The Redwood City Fire Department and the Redwood City Police Department work together to notify San Mateo County Adult Protective Services or Child Protective Services when needed.
In addition, the Police Department developed Project Safe, a program to address issues at Sequoia Station, including homelessness. The Department has begun working with homeless support services in an attempt to pair services with prospective homeless clients on the spot whenever possible. To learn more about Project Safe, go here.
To learn about the Redwood City Police Department, go here, for the Redwood City Fire Department, go here, for the Redwood City Public Library Social Service “Office Hours,” go here, and for the Public Works Department, go here. To learn more about Food, Shelter, Housing, and other Emergency Assistance/Social Services provided at the Fair Oaks Community Center Services, go here.
Homeless Programs Get the Go-Ahead
The City Manager appointed staff from multiple departments to the Housing and Homeless Innovation Team (HHIT), and tasked the team with recommending new approaches to meet the needs of homeless residents. The Team identified existing services provided to homeless residents by the City of Redwood City, the County of San Mateo and other non-profit agencies and suggested new programs. In March 2019, the HHIT recommended that the City Council approve two pilot programs: one to engage with the Downtown Streets Team organization, and one to develop a new Housing Locator Assister program. The City Council approved both programs and program development is currently underway.
The Housing Locator Assister program will develop relationships with property owners and support community members who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless by assisting them in finding housing. The partnership with the Downtown Streets Team will create a program for homeless individuals where they clean-up the Downtown and other parts of the City and, in turn, earn a stipend, develop job skills, and receive vital health services and case management, with the goal of transitioning to full-time employment within one year.
The recent City Council approval establishes a two-year agreement with the Downtown Streets Team organization, which was founded in 2005. Since then, they have secured more than 900 homes and 950 jobs for formerly homeless individuals. The Downtown Streets Team organization has programs in more than a dozen Northern California cities, including Hayward, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and Sunnyvale. Its unique approach challenges homeless individuals to take an active role in their own recovery, giving them the power to succeed and responsibility for their success. Redwood City will launch the program this fall.
How Can You Help?
If you see homeless encampments or other areas needing cleanup, notify the Police Department by contacting (650) 780–7118. Let the dispatcher know where the encampment is located, with as much detail as possible. If there is a medical, fire or other emergency, dial 9–1–1. Keep in mind that requests will take time to address, as department personnel may need to post eviction notices around the area, and then need to coordinate with Public Works Services to schedule cleanup. Care needs to be given to the people living in the encampments.
A great way to get involved is organizing and participating in local cleanup efforts. Twice a year, the City’s Pride and Beautification Committee organizes a Coastal Cleanup and a Spring Cleanup. Starting the morning off with breakfast, teams are sent to various places that have been identified as needing cleanup throughout the City. Participants come together for a free BBQ lunch at the end. For more information about the Pride and Beautification Committee’s cleanup efforts, go here.
To learn about the Redwood City Police Department, go here, for the Redwood City Fire Department, go here, for the Redwood City Public Library Social Service “Office Hours” go here, and for the Public Works Department, go here.