Contra Costa Supe Seeks $3M for Shelter/kids living in cars FWD

Tom Boland (
Tue, 2 Feb 1999 08:20:43 -0800 (PST)
FWD  San Francisco Chronicle  Monday, February 1, 1999  Page A12


He's disturbed by number of kids living in cars

Bernadette Tansey, Chronicle Staff Writer

       Alarmed by the growing number of homeless children, a Contra Costa
County supervisor is proposing that they be tucked into bed at a new $3
million shelter for families instead of having to sleep in cars.

       Supervisor Joe Canciamilla said Friday that the county government
should lead a drive to build a shelter for about 20 families by the end of
2000, drawing on financial support from cities, federal housing funds,
religious groups and private donations.

       The eastern Contra Costa County representative said the plan, which
will tomorrow, is an attempt to break a logjam among politicians and
charities in his district that want to help the homeless but cannot agree
on how to focus their work.

       ``The most severe need is clearly for women and children,''
Canciamilla said.

       Because the county already operates shelters for single adults in
Concord and Richmond and a family shelter in Martinez, Canciamilla said,
fairness dictates that the new shelter be located in eastern Contra Costa.
But the shelter would be open to families from any part of the county, he

       Duane Chapman, Contra Costa's homeless ombudsman, said he receives
as many as 40 calls a week from police, hospital workers and others seeking
help for homeless children. Chapman said some west Contra Costa County
families, seeking a safe place to sleep, park their cars along the
waterfront road beside Interstate 80 from Richmond to Berkeley every night.

       Canciamilla said the problem is more hidden in eastern Contra Costa,
where low-income families stay in garages, move in with friends or camp out
in gullies and creek banks.

       According to 1995 county estimates -- the last year the county's
Health Services Department counted the homeless population -- there were
13,000 homeless people in Contra Costa County. Of that number, about 9,100
were members of a family, and 4,200 were children.

       When parents hold minimum- wage jobs, their families can plunge into
homelessness with ``the slightest disruption in their earnings ability,''
Canciamilla said in his report to the board.

       Illness, child care costs, eviction, domestic violence or even an
unexpected car repair bill can land a family on the street, Canciamilla

       Low-cost apartments have become much harder to find in eastern
Contra Costa County this year, said Merlin Wedepohl, director of Shelter
Inc., which operates a transitional home for eight families in Pittsburg.
Even when families have qualified for Section 8 housing subsidies, they
find it hard to compete in the increasingly tight rental market with
established workers who have better credit, Wedepohl said.

       Shelter Inc.'s Pittsburg Family Center is one of a handful of small
emergency homes for Contra Costa families in crisis. All have waiting

       Religious groups in western and central Contra Costa County run
family shelter programs that move to a different church, synagogue, or
place of worship each week. The St. Vincent de Paul Society, which runs an
interfaith program in central Contra Costa County for 30 people, is
starting a similar rotating shelter Monday involving nine congregations in
Bay Point, Pittsburg and Antioch.

       Leah Maroney, director of the interfaith effort, said she wants to
expand those winter shelters into year-round programs.

       ``It's just as dangerous for women and children to be in their cars
at night in the summer as it is in the winter,'' she said.

       Canciamilla is proposing a shelter with 20 two- or three-bedroom
units along with common rooms where parents could receive counseling and
check Internet sites for job listings.

       Susan Prather, a homeless advocate, supports the idea but said the
need is so great, especially in winter, that the county should also set up
armory-style shelters.

       Canciamilla said Prather has a point, but such shelters do not ``get
to the root of the problem.''


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