shelter groundbreaking at Novato military base FWD

Tom Boland (
Mon, 15 Jun 1998 22:28:10 -0700 (PDT)
FWD  June 12, 1998 - San Francisco Chronicle - Page A21


     Tyra Lucile Mead, Chronicle Staff Writer

A decade-old dream got its official launch in the concrete world yesterday
as Homeward Bound of Marin broke ground on the first homeless shelter in
the nation to be built on a decommissioned military base.

New Beginnings, a $2.5 million, 80-bed shelter at Hamilton Field in Novato,
will also break ground philosophically, looking beyond the immediate need
for food and a roof to provide year-round services that will help lift
people permanently out of homelessness.

``We hope to become a national model,'' Bob Puett, program director of the
New Beginnings Center, said at a well-attended ceremony at the former
Hamilton Air Force Base, which was declared surplus in 1974.

``We're the only (homeless) program on a decommissioned military base in
the country. If it can work in Marin, it should work anywhere. But you've
got to meet the community in the middle.''

Federal law requires that homeless agencies be given the first shot at
applying for use of the housing on decommissioned bases, but some groups
have found the political obstacles all but insurmountable.

For the past several years, New Beginnings has operated a winter shelter on
the base, first in a 5,000-square-foot tent and currently in a warehouse.
Before that, the struggle to get a permanent homeless shelter was literally
a road show, moving from place to place as it tried to find a home of its
own, often encountering vociferous objections to its plans.

But slowly, the agency won the neighbors over.

``We went through our use permit hearing three weeks ago,'' Puett said,
``and no one came to it.''

Homeward Bound was known as the Housing Center of Marin until two years
ago. The name change reflected a shift in thinking: addressing short-term
needs is laudable but does little to get people back on their feet.

``We're committed to helping people get their lives together,'' said
Deborah Riggins, the agency's director of finance and human services.

Riggins said plans are in the works to prepare clients for jobs in such
areas as commercial food preparation.  Another program may teach
landscaping skills. There will also be workshops on resume writing,
interviewing skills, and how to keep a job.

Only $500,000 of the $2.5 million cost has come from government money.
Another $800,000 came from the Marin Community Foundation and its Buck
Trust resources. The rest has been raised from individuals and

In other changes, Puett announced yesterday that the temporary shelter
isn't shutting down for the summer.

``This is the first year in 10 years I haven't had to say to the clients,
`Here's a sleeping bag, and there's the road,' '' he said.

Officials believe about 2,500 to 3,000 people are homeless at some point
each year in Marin.

One homeless woman attended yesterday's ceremonies and offered her personal
testimonial for the center. She did not want to give her name but said that
after losing her job, home and car, she lived on the streets for three
months ``in terror,'' and was in and out of the hospital with pneumonia
before coming to New Beginnings.

``It's been a savior to me,'' she said. ``Once I got to this place, I
didn't have to keep begging people to help me, which is humiliating. That's
over now. It's not going to happen again.''

Homeless center officials expect grading on the project to begin by the
first of next month and for the facility to be done in about a year's time.

They had hoped to begin construction on the permanent shelter last year,
but the project was delayed as the military and the city of Novato
negotiated over the transfer of the land. Eventually, Novato will take
title and then give Homeward Bound a long-term lease; until then, Novato
will be leasing the land from the military and subleasing to the homeless


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