[Hpn] "Haven" for homeless opens by SFO -- far, far away from the business districts and other services business districts and other services

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Sun, 17 Dec 2000 16:20:19 -0700

Hurrah, a 90 bed shelter so remote from the neighborhoods of silicon valley
that the residents must be bussed to it every night, meanwhile the
bureaucrats and providers get a "puff piece" in the Chron -- just as though
they were some kind of fucking prize. We used to put more people than that
up in one of the covert squats that Homes Not Jails once operated.

I wonder how much permanent housing $2 million would have built?




Shelter Finds Permanent Home
Haven for homeless opens by SFO
Julie N. Lynem, Chronicle Staff Writer
Saturday, December 16, 2000
©2000 San Francisco Chronicle



After facing months of rejection by Peninsula communities, San Mateo
County's emergency winter shelter has finally found a permanent home in
South San Francisco.

The $2 million shelter, which welcomed its first overnight guests yesterday,

is on the former SamTrans employee parking lot near San Francisco
International Airport -- far from any residential neighborhood. It replaces
the county's 13-year-old emergency shelter at the National Guard Armory in
San Mateo. 

Though isolated, the shelter does offer private showers, hot food, 90 beds
and hope for the future, things that often are in short supply for the

"We're trying to bring some stability to people's lives," said Denis Lewis,
director of operations at Samaritan House, which runs the shelter. "They can
get a good night's rest and clean up. When you're homeless, it's hard to
maintain yourself and a job."

Yesterday, work crews, staff and volunteers from the county and Samaritan
House put the finishing touches on the 8,980-square-foot shelter. At 5:30

nearly a dozen clients already had signed in and were sitting at tables near
a glittering Christmas tree.

A few, like Joe Boyle, picked up their blankets to settle into their bunk
bed for the night. 

"It's inside and it's dry," he said. "It beats being out there. It was cold
out there last night."

The shelter will be open annually from November until March, from 5 p.m. to
7 a.m. It will not only offer a warm place to stay, but counseling, job
training, weekly classes in computers, conflict resolution and resume
writing. The county will provide a nurse once a week, and someone from the
Department of Veterans Affairs will be there to tell veterans about their

Homeless people can get to and from the shelter on shuttles run by SamTrans,

which owns the site.. Clients can catch the shuttles at the Colma BART
station, Tanforan Shopping Center and Airport Boulevard/Linden stop.

The county Board of Supervisors voted last year to close the armory shelter
after nearby residents complained about it. Officials spent months futilely
searching for a site where the community wouldn't resist, then agreed to a
10- year lease with SamTrans for the airport location in October.

"It's very tough to find communities that will embrace it," said Steve
Cervantes, director of San Mateo County's Office of Housing.

"People are generally supportive of the effort and the issue," he said. But
when it comes to having a shelter nearby, he said, their attitude is, " 'I'd
rather not have it next me.' "

Pamela Martorana, who sleeps in her old car on the streets of San Mateo,
said it's unfair for residents to stereotype the homeless.

The 61-year-old cancer survivor used to juggle two or three jobs. But after
surgery last spring and other health problems, she said, working has become

So has buying food, paying rent and bills on the $900 a month she receives
from her late husband's pension, she said.

"I'm not out here because I'm stupid," said Martorana, who used to be an
assembly line worker in Burlingame. "I've met a homeless person who was a
legal secretary and a nurse in Vietnam. It's not because we're dummies. It's
because of circumstances and because the rent is too high."

The face of homelessness is changing, Lewis said. Last year, he met senior
citizens who were on fixed incomes and sleeping in their cars because they
couldn't afford to pay rent. The working poor have also suffered in the
booming Bay Area economy, he said.

"It's tough when you're paying $1,600 a month for a studio next to the
railroad tracks," Lewis said.

In San Mateo County, an estimated 4,600 people are homeless at some point
each year. In neighboring Santa Clara County, at least 20,000 people, many
of them single women and children, are homeless for part of the year, said
Jan Bernstein, director of communications for InnVision, which runs a
network of 11 homeless shelters and transitional housing in Silicon Valley.

"It's not visible," she said. "The majority of them are trying very hard to
blend in. They don't want their teachers, friends or employers to know.
They're staying in industrial areas or at freeway cloverleafs. They're
trying to stay hidden . . . moving from sofa to sofa or sleeping in a motel
room for a few nights."

One man agreed to pay a homeowner $100 a month just to sleep in the back
yard, Bernstein said.

"There was no shed," she said. "He just got to sleep there, and they
wouldn't call the police."

Martorana said she's looking forward to stopping by the new shelter from
time to time -- if she can find someplace safe to park her car, the only
permanent shelter she has.

"You just tell yourself it's not always going to be like this," she said.

E-mail Julie N. Lynem at jlynem@sfchronicle.com.

©2000 San Francisco Chronicle   Page A25