Shelters jammed as winter weather hits 

As winter temperatures and blustery storms return to the Bay Area, a shortage of shelter beds in San Mateo County is forcing dozens of people to fend for themselves on the street every night.

Nonprofit agencies that run the two main homeless shelters on the Peninsula — the 90-bed Safe Harbor Shelter in South San Francisco and the 76-bed Maple Street Shelter in Redwood City — say their facilities have been packed to capacity under unprecedented demand during the recession.  

Shelter managers have been forced to turn away dozens of people nightly, even after putting out a few extra cots in common areas, said Jessica Escobedo, program manager for the South San Francisco shelter run by Samaritan House.

“You have to just keep being persistent and trying to get in, but there’s not going to be a lot of movement, especially throughout these next two weeks,” Escobedo said. “They know the weather’s bad and it’s just a really rough time to be by yourself out there.”

Clients who are lucky enough to find a bed can stay for up to eight months via the nonprofit’s transitional-housing program, so there is little turnover during winter, Escobedo said.

During the cold snap over Thanksgiving weekend, when Peninsula temperatures dipped into the 30s, there was a spike in demand at shelters, officials said. But it is still too early to tell whether this year will be worse than prior years.

“It’s hard to say,” Escobedo said. “It’s always bad around this time of year. You kind of just get used to turning people away.”

Warming shelters at local armories are not activated unless the governor declares a state of emergency due to extremely low temperatures, said spokeswoman Amanda Kim of the county’s Human Services Agency.

That has not happened on the Peninsula since 2007.

The county has a policy that children will not sleep on the street unsheltered, so families with children will be given motel rooms if necessary, said Brian Greenberg, the director of programs and services for Shelter Network. But the agency — which now fields about 1,500 calls per week for help, up from 100 two years ago — is not able to cover every single adult, he said.

Still, Shelter Network squeezes in about eight extra spaces on cots and couches at its shelter to leave buffer room, especially for police officers who often bring people in during the night, Greenberg said.  

“They don’t know what to do with the person. They’re freezing out there,” Greenberg said.

In need of help

For emergency food, shelter, clothing and other services, contact a local community service agency in your area:

Daly City Community Services Center

350 90th St., Daly City

Phone: (650) 991-8007

Fax: (650) 991-8227

Serves: Daly City, Broadmoor, Colma

Fair Oaks Community Center

2600 Middlefield Road, Redwood City

Phone: (650) 780-7500

Fax: (650) 298-8184

Serves: Redwood City, Portola Valley, North Fair Oaks, Woodside, Atherton

El Concilio of San Mateo County

1798-B Bay Road, East Palo Alto

Phone: (650) 330-7432

Fax: (650) 321-7785

Serves: East Palo Alto, Menlo Park

North Peninsula Neighborhood Service Center

600 Linden Ave., South San Francisco

Phone: (650) 588-8822

Fax: (650) 583-4178

Serves: South San Francisco, San Bruno, Brisbane

Pacifica Resource Center

1809 Palmetto Ave., Pacifica

(650) 738-7470

(650) 359-2053

Pacifica, North of Devil’s Slide

Samaritan House

4031 Pacific Blvd., San Mateo

Phone: (650) 347-3648

(650) 347-6066

Serves: San Mateo, Burlingame, Millbrae, Hillsborough, Belmont, San Carlos, Foster City

Source: San Mateo County Human Services Agency

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