Homeless finding shelter in voucher system 

When Hurricane Katrina survivor Jimmie Cosey came to the Bay Area from Louisiana last December, he said he wasn’t sure what to do when he found a number of homeless shelters packed and without available beds.

Fortunately, Cosey, like many other homeless in San Mateo County, received a voucher from county officials for a night’s stay in a motel, just as long as he promised to turn up the next morning to sign into a shelter. At the motel, he was able to get regular showers and meals and store his belongings while interviewing for jobs, Cosey said.

"I’m grateful [the voucher system was] here — I’m not sure what I would have done otherwise," Cosey said.

With roughly 1,400 homeless and roughly 60 emergency shelter beds each night, it can be tough for people to find a warm place to sleep, especially in the winter, county Supervisor Jerry Hill said.

The pilot voucher system, dubbed the Early Entry Shelter Program, launched in April 2007 with $25,000 in seed money from San Mateo County, program manager Teri Chin said. In the first six months, the Fair Oaks Community Center-based program helped 148 people find shelter, up from 81 in the same six months of 2006.

Since then, it’s garnered $10,000 from the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and another $25,000 in county funds to operate through the end of June, and Chin hopes to go after more grant money.

"It’s meant to be a bridge to shelter on the very first day they go looking ... because [if they don’t get something], they get discouraged," Chin said. "And theyhave to come in early the next day to get into the shelter — which is facilitated by having gotten a good night’s sleep."

To qualify for a motel voucher, an individual must be committed to entering the county’s shelter system, from which they can transition into jobs and permanent housing, Chin said. Cosey has since found a job and an apartment with a roommate, and returned to Fair Oaks recently for help finding a place of his own.

The Early Entry to Shelter program is just one of many efforts in the county’s 10-year plan to end homelessness, Hill said. In other efforts, San Mateo recently purchased the Vendome Hotel to provide low-income residences, and county leaders are helping Redwood City and Half Moon Bay look at similar prospects.

bwinegarner@examiner.com  

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