San Mateo County is set to receive $68 million in state funds to meet the needs of hundreds of unhoused residents, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Wednesday, Dec. 15.
The Grant from California's Homekey program the will fund two projects in the county — first, $55.3 million will go towards building a 240-unit Navigation Center near Highway 101 in Redwood City. The center will replace the Maple Street Shelter in 2022, equipped with shelter services, case managers and other services for residents at risk of homelessness.
For the second project, the county will buy and rehabilitate Stone Villa Inn in San Mateo into a 44-room temporary shelter space. The $13.5 million project will serve as a launching pad for residents to find permanent housing with skill-building services and immediate shelter.
The grant is the county's largest financial award to go towards housing.
"This is a reflection of the state's and county's values that if you make the commitment, you can send people who are homeless on a path toward stable lives if you provide them with intensive support services such as job training, counseling and more," said David Canepa, president of the Board of Supervisors, in a statement. "San Mateo County can achieve functional zero homelessness with the help of these two projects and I want to praise our staff for the hard work they have done to secure these life- and community-changing awards."
The Navigation Center, a first in the county, was facilitated by a historic land swap finalized in October between city and county officials.
The agreement, which was a decade in the making, exchanged a 2.5-acre Redwood City-owned parcel at 1469 Maple Street for two acres of the county’s land at 1580 Maple Street. With the newly acquired land, the city is moving forward with a proposed Blomquist Street Extension, while San Mateo County will use the space to build the new shelter.
County Manager Michael Callagy, who’s been heavily involved in negotiations for the land swap, said he believes the new center will be “revolutionary” in addressing the County’s homelessness goals.
"This will change the face of homelessness in our county. This is a tremendous opportunity to help our entire community by ensuring that every homeless individual who wants shelter can find it and are treated with dignity and respect. These are real people with real issues and these funds will change lives," he said in a statement.
“We want to be the first county in the Bay Area to say that we've achieved ‘functional zero,’” Callagy told the Pulse, adding that a shelter will be available for anyone who wants one. “And we hope to achieve that within the year or so.”
On a 2019 One-Day Homeless Count, 1,500 San Mateo County residents were reportedly experiencing homelessness, with more than 900 living without shelter. Since the pandemic, the county estimates these numbers may have further expanded as the Bay Area-wide housing crisis continues to worsen.
As of April, Redwood City, whose homeless population is the largest in the County, has 111 unsheltered residents, not including people living in RVs or other vehicles. Of those surveyed, a third became houseless during the pandemic, and 31 people reported being homeless for the first time.
City Council member Diana Reddy, a vocal advocate for affordable housing, said she was “completely supportive” of the agreement, which will provide up to five emergency “hold” rooms at the navigation center for Redwood City residents in immediate need.
“It's important for people to understand too that the face of homelessness, people who are housing insecure, is not what it was 10 or 15 years ago,” said Reddy. “This is a person who's generally working—many are working full-time jobs or two or three jobs—and just are simply not able to afford their rent.”
San Mateo County previously received $33 million in Homekey funds to buy 170 hotel rooms in Redwood City and Redwood Shores to provide long-term shelter to those experiencing homelessness due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The new funds are a significant boon to the Navigation Center, which Callagy estimated to be a $40-50 million project.
“Every day that goes by, I am worried about it because that's one more day people spend on the street,” he said. “We hope within a year, literally, to be occupying this.”
Bay City News contributed to this story.
Leah Worthington is the lead reporter at the Redwood City Pulse. Leah can be reached at email@example.com, on Twitter, and by phone at 650-888-3794. To read more stories about Redwood City, subscribe to our daily Express newsletter on rwcpulse.com.