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San Mateo County opens first homeless navigation center

A new, innovative navigation center for people experiencing homelessness in San Mateo County opened Tuesday, April 18, in Redwood City.

"You can bring your dog, your partner and your belongings," the county touted in a press release.

Simply called the Navigation Center, the space provides 240 temporary living spaces for unsheltered people, along with on-site support services such as trauma counseling, substance use treatment, and even health and dental care, a first for a San Mateo County non-congregate shelter, the county said.

The total cost for the project is estimated to be $57 million, with annual operating costs at just over $5 million, according to the county.

The bulk of the funding -- just over $55 million -- came from a California Homekey grant, a statewide program launched in 2020 to provide local governments with money to create temporary or permanent housing for people experiencing homelessness.

In some ways the new center mirrors a high-end apartment complex, with outdoor plazas, a community garden area, landscaping, a basketball court and even a dog run. There is also parking for 68 vehicles, 140 bicycles, laundry facilities and Wi-Fi. The Navigation Center is also getting 60% of its energy from solar power and using recycled water for irrigation, the county said.

The county said that the site is thought to be the nation's first multi-story prefabricated shelter and said its design is being used as a blueprint elsewhere. The housing units are arrayed in wings of one, two and three stories. Over half of the units have their own restrooms.

Construction on the new center, located on 275 Blomquist St., right off U.S. Highway 101, began a year ago, with many units being prefabricated off-site and then installed. As of Tuesday, the county didn't have details about when new residents would be able to begin moving in, but said it would happen "soon."

According to the county, the Navigation Center has space for up to 260 people and is geared toward those who may be reluctant to go to traditional shelters, which have cots or bunk beds and little privacy.

The new Redwood City center allows couples to room together along with their pets and to safely store their belongings, the county said.

"This Navigation Center will provide a home-like setting for clients as they move towards permanent housing solutions," Dave Pine, president of the Board of Supervisors, said in a statement released by the county. "What we have heard over and over again is that being homeless strips people of their dignity. This Navigation Center will help restore that dignity."

The Navigation Center will be operated under a contract with Menlo Park-based nonprofit LifeMoves.

“LifeMoves exists to end homelessness, and we can’t do that alone,” said Aubrey Merriman, LifeMoves chief executive officer, in a statement released by the county. “It takes public, private and service system partnerships to catalyze innovative projects like these. LifeMoves is honored to be part of the collective solution and I thank everyone who rose to the challenge.”

San Mateo County has adopted the "housing first" model of tackling homelessness, which asserts that people need a safe and solid roof over their head before they can take on other issues that may be contributing to their homelessness, such as mental illness or addiction. The county hopes to reach a "functional zero" level of homelessness, which means everyone who wants housing or shelter assistance in the county can receive it.

A point-in-time count done in San Mateo County on Feb. 23, 2022, found that there were 1,808 people there experiencing homelessness on that date. Of those people, 1,092 were unsheltered and staying in the streets, in vehicles or tents, the county said.

Source: The Almanac

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