Census Count Reveals 'Homeless City' off Veterans Boulevard

Planning Commissioner Ernie Schmidt said he was not prepared for what he and other volunteers discovered during last month's homeless census count.

Redwood City Planning Commission Chair Ernie Schmidt knew when he volunteered to participate in the county-wide homeless census count on Jan. 24 that he would be given an insider's look into homelessness in Redwood City.

However, he said, he was not in any way prepared for what he found.

What he saw that day on Jan. 24 inspired Schmidt to make tackling local homelessness his new personal mission.

Discovery of a 'homeless city'

Local volunteers like Schmidt, new County Supervisor Warren Slocum and many others set out at the break of dawn on Jan. 24 for the County Homeless One-Day Count. In the annual event, volunteers walk the communities and count as many homeless persons as they see.

The counts help the County figure out how much resources are needed for homelessness in the area.

Schmidt said he walked at least three miles on foot that day, to various corners of Redwood City. He said, an officer with the Redwood City Police Department (RCPD) gave volunteers a map of "hot spots" around Redwood City where homeless people are known to gather.

Schmidt said, homeless people tend to wander during the daytime, and find places to camp during the night - thus the need to start the count around 6 a.m.

RCPD had indicated that homeless people often gather on Veterans Boulevard near the Highway 101 overpass. Schmidt said, he often sees homeless people there himself.

"I've seen the people and the shopping carts often when I drive by that spot," he said.

However, he was unprepared for just what he saw.

Schmidt and the other volunteers discovered a well-hidden spot between the back wall of a business and the wall of the overpass. In this alley, they discovered a small "homeless city."

Schmidt said, there was at least 15 tents with as many homeless people camped out in the alley, and he could tell they had been there for some time.

Garbage, shopping carts and the overwhelming smell of urine filled the alley, and an alarming amount of graffiti covered the walls, he said.

See the attached photo Schmidt took that day, of the homeless city in the alley.

Schmidt said, the homeless people were essentially sleeping amid filth, garbage and mud.

"I cried, almost literally, to see people living in such conditions," he said. "The garbage was atrocious, and the smell was so bad. I had to shower three times when I got home that day, just to get rid of the smell."

"We had no idea what we were getting into when we stepped into that alley way."

Volunteers attempted to talk to some of the homeless people living in the encampment, to find out what brought them to have to live there, and determine what could be done to help them.

Schmidt said he was sad to discover that one woman living in the alley had been living with a badly broken ankle for some time.

Staff from InnVision Shelter Network, who were also helping with the count that day, tried to convince the woman to let them help get her medical care and a bed to sleep in.

"She didn't want to go," said Connie Leyva, an outreach worker with InnVision. "She kept saying, 'My belongings are here. If I leave, people will rummage through my stuff and steal it.' So, I came back the next day with someone who would keep an eye on her stuff for her while she came with us."

Leyva said, it's not uncommon for homeless to resist help for such reasons. She said, the key to making a difference is to not give up - to keep coming back and talking to them, and to find out on a personal level what would really help their individual situations.

Leyva said, one thing that makes her good at her job is that she can relate to them on a personal level, because she was once homeless herself. Leyva said, InnVision helped her get back on her feet years ago, and the positive experience inspired her to help others by working with the organization.

"Knowing you've walked a mile in their shoes, it helps them to want to open up to you," she explained.

Schmidt said, it took five days for local authorities like RCPD and Caltrans to clean up the homeless city they discovered that day in the alley by the overpass, and to find resources to help all of the roughly 15 people they found living there that day.

"I was really proud of the RCPD for getting on the ball and getting this done so quickly," he said, walking through the newly-clean alley last week. "It's a remarkable difference, looking at the 'before' and 'after' and how much cleaner it looked just five days after the census count."

See attached photos of what they alley looks like today.

Inspired to make a difference

Schmdit said, helping local homeless is his true "new year's resolution" for 2013.

"Originally, I had made a resolution to eat healthier - but now, this is my resolution. To do whatever I can to help the homeless situation," he said.

"I'm given a great privilege as a Planning Commissioner to witness the wonderful growth in Redwood City, and to help my city," he said. "But, it's as a community member that I feel I can help make a difference in these people's lives."

Schmidt said, immediately after participating in the One-Day Count, he signed up to be a volunteer with InnVision Shelter Network, in whatever capacity they can use him.

Since then, his personal mission has been to "knock on as many doors as he can" within the City's and County's resources to try and address the problems and intricacies of local homelessness.

One way he hopes to do so is to try and find partnerships with local businesses to help provide food and clothing for homeless people, help getting job interviews and coaching them on finding work, and more.

He said, most of all, the experience helped him realize that homelessness is not just the responsibility of the Cities.

"Homelessness is not a City issue - it's really a community issue. It really takes the involvement of the community to get these people help," he said. "That's how we can end homelessness - as a community."

What can Redwood City do?

That doesn't mean there aren't some things the Cities can do to help. Schmidt said, the Redwood City Planning Commission is currently working on identifying a certain number of acres within the city that can be zoned to allow for more emergency shelters.

There are currently five shelters in Redwood City - but Schmidt said, given the numbers they saw during the homeless census count last month, it's obvious five is not enough.

The state of California requires, under government code, the identification of a zone or zones where emergency shelters are allowed as a permitted use without a conditional use or other discretionary permit. The minimum required is at least 12 acres, and the total number of acres is determined through a specific formula that takes into account data such as the homeless census count.

The Planning Commission has been tackling the requirement lately and, during last week's commission meeting, actually identified around 60 acres that could potentially serve as these "emergency shelter/combined districts."

"One of the reasons we looked beyond the 12 acres is to spread it out so it's not so concentrated," explained City Planning Manager Blake Lyon. "For example, the districts could be least 300 feet away from away each other."

The Planning Commission will continue looking at the issue and will soon be making recommendations to the City Council.

How anyone can help

Schmidt and Leyva said, anyone who is inspired to help the problem of local homelessness can contact InnVision Shelter Network and volunteer.

Volunteer opportunities include tutoring children in the Children's Program, teaching life skills to homeless people working to become self-sufficient, sorting donations at the shelters, assisting office staff, and more.

Visit www.shelternetwork.org for more information or to volunteer or make a donation.

What do you think of the issue of homelessness in Redwood City and San Mateo County? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

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TGD February 11, 2013 at 07:57 PM
"Sorry TGD I give every April 15th." You should consider yourself fortunate because there is no one that, under the right circumstances, isn't a matter of days/weeks/months away from having nothing. So hang onto yours with a tight fist and pray to your favorite deity that it doesn't somehow slip away and turn you into what it is you so deeply resent helping.
TGD February 11, 2013 at 08:22 PM
"TGD, actually, Buck is correct." Really. So how much time have you spent on the street? Have you ever slept in any of the areas that many homeless do? I personally know many of the people that camp out at these spots because I was homeless myself for 2 years. Do you know what it takes to get Section 8? I had it but never used it. Have you ever had/or attended a FSTC meeting to establish you or anyone elses eligibility for assistance programs? Every homeless person knows that all the forms are available at the Fair Oaks Center on Middlefield and many fill them out when applying for any assistance (from welfare to food stamps). Try a little experiment, go to one of these homeless encampments and tell them you can help get them off the streets but they cannot drink or do drugs, cannot bring all their possesions and must follow a program of a job search and employement and you'll be turned down by virtually all. It's noble vthat you at least make an effort to assist those in need but you need to realize it is a totally different scenario when you are the one on the other side of that situation.
Lou Covey, The Local Motive February 11, 2013 at 08:53 PM
TGD, no need to get testy. I was agreeing with Bucj in that there are a lot of programs to help these people. I was saying, just as you are, that it is difficult to get people on the street into the program. Yes. I have sat through meetings to establish my eligibility. Yes I've been on food stamps. Yes, I've been on county health care programs. Yes, I have been homeless. Yes, I have known what it is like to throw away possessions to get into a program. Yes, I know it is difficult to get people to give up addictions. I am saying that having one person who doesn't want to be there is unacceptable. The county program counts both people on the street and in housing. The purpose is to identify those who want to change their circumstances.
Linda Jolley February 11, 2013 at 08:54 PM
I will be very pleasantly surprised if City Council does anything beyond the usual political smokescreens. Five years ago I asked the Council to set up a well-policed campground for the staggering homeless population, and offered to set it up or run it myself, if funded. I also asked them to stop the brutal practice of searching parked cars to give $200 citations to homeless sleepers. The Council's response: Total deafness. They returned to considering the smokescreen operation of Project Hope. (Other experiences indicate an IMPOTENT council and mayor.) I am calling for Guillotine! Linda Jolley
Lou Covey, The Local Motive February 11, 2013 at 09:00 PM
Linda, why does the council have to do it. You sem to know exactly what it would take. Why don't you crowdsource the funds and then take on the responsibility for running a park specifically for the homeless. It's only 1,100 people in the county. How hard can it be?
Corrin Rankin February 11, 2013 at 09:02 PM
Lou Covey, I agree. If anyone wants to volunteer to help the homeless in our community contact David Shearin at Street Life Ministries. It's a great organization! http://streetlifeministries.org/
TGD February 11, 2013 at 10:52 PM
"Why don't you crowdsource the funds and then take on the responsibility for running a park specifically for the homeless. It's only 1,100 people in the county. How hard can it be?" This thought had crossed my mind from time to time and I think it would be a great idea. If Linda could outsource the funds for operations and maybe Lou could secure the area and zoning permits, set up full time security, sanitation (sewage, restrooms w/bathing), lighting and electrical, storage, parking and maintenance for starters it may have a chance of taking shape. Now in order to accomidate 1,100 I would imagine about maybe 10 acres, figure 600 to 900 tents. I'm not sure. How would the "program" work? Would there be a limit on time you could stay? Would you need to register or just move on in? Any lights out quiet time? Is alcohol use permited? Pets? Restrictions (felonies/sexual crimes)? All this could be worked out as you go. If you can pull it off you'd get national attention and possibly establish a standard for a nationwide program.
TGD February 11, 2013 at 10:59 PM
"InnVision would be a good organization to " contact about volunteering." I've been volunteering with Shelter Network on and off now for about 4 years and now since they have come together with InnVision their services in San Mateo County have expanded to now include Santa Clara County.
Aaron February 11, 2013 at 11:00 PM
I disbelive that an accurate count is possible. Volunteers were trained to identify people living in their cars, but the census routes only included areas associated with “visible” dereliction. I lived in a van for two months before I figured out how to spot others in the same situation; a one-day training for volunteers is insufficient for this. I belive the actual numbers are way higher than the report indicate. Were persons in the criminal justice system accounted for? Were persons enjoying coffee and newspaper in fast food restaurants accounted for? The census specifically did not count people in immediate danger of becoming homeless, and did not count couch surfers with $80,000 in student debt and part time jobs paying $10/hr.
Aaron February 11, 2013 at 11:02 PM
Such data would be very important indeed at determining the scope of potential future need for funding programs in the county I would propose alternate methodology. Specifically, I would assign the census takers to remain in place rather than on routes. Taking note of homeless people using facilities at fast food restaurants and gas stations in the morning. Many homeless people skip using bathrooms altogether, so my methodology would produce conservative numbers. I am confident, though, that my numbers would be much higher and more accurate than the census. We could even do this together, by creating a map of redwood city and crowdsourcing data as to how many uniqely identifiable homeless persons are using which specific facilities. I honestly think over 200 people sleep outdoors or in vehicles within redwood city limits.
Aaron February 11, 2013 at 11:07 PM
Don't Forget about the Catholic Worker House ;) And the shelter network ...
Aaron February 11, 2013 at 11:09 PM
Or we could just build another jail ....
Aaron February 11, 2013 at 11:41 PM
or the police would shoot you with gas grenades after being mercilessly chastised by the mainstream media as diffuse communists and dirty druggies.
Lou Covey, The Local Motive February 11, 2013 at 11:42 PM
Yes, as I said, person in jails were counted. If you have another idea on how to provide a more accurate count, maybe you should present it. Or better yet, maybe you should volunteer to participate in 2015.
Lou Covey, The Local Motive February 11, 2013 at 11:58 PM
You're actually way off, according to the county census. In 2011, there were over 500 people on the streets or living in vehicles, in Redwood City.
Lou Covey, The Local Motive February 11, 2013 at 11:58 PM
Maybe you should actually read it before pronouncing it false. ;)
Aaron February 12, 2013 at 12:23 AM
Dear Patch Readers I often produce haphazard writings as a result of poor command of the language. I do not enjoy the benefits of an education in communication, nor have I aspired to journalism or any other profession which demands rigorous eloquence. I affirm the right of others to express their opinions, and world-views in constructive manners, and I even respect others' freedoms such as expressing strong opinions with unpleasant language. I was taught to make the distinction between the words they're, there, and their in the third grade. I do try to accept that people without a third grade education are going to voice thier opinions... after all... it's what puts the "lulz" in the "interwebz." I wonder of such anonymous characters, "Is someone really that stupid, or are they just 'trolling'?" Unfortunately, these people really do exist. They're idiots whose only idolity is self-gratification. Their minds are for sale. There you go.
Lou Covey, The Local Motive February 12, 2013 at 12:59 AM
Gee. Maybe it isn't all that easy.
Diana Reddy February 12, 2013 at 08:27 AM
Ernie: Thank you for taking the time to write about your experience. One of the benefits of the One-Day Homeless Count is to expose community volunteers to the homeless situation in the community. Volunteers report that it is a rewarding experience, particularly because San Mateo County includes homeless guides to support the teams. By including this story in Patch, even more community members were enlightened. In addition to the firestorm of comments listed here, several friends mentioned to me how much they appreciated hearing about the experience.
Jennifer van der Kleut (Editor) February 12, 2013 at 04:54 PM
Hi everyone, I just wanted to clarify something - this was in no way a scheduled "photo opp" for Commissioner Schmidt, the RCPD or anyone else. Ernie Schmidt and I were having a conversation the other day in which he was telling me about his experiences volunteering for the homeless count, and then we decided to meet so he could show me the alley and tell me about what he saw that day. No members of the police were even present. While we were out there that day, we happened to come across Connie Leyva and another InnVision volunteer who were out walking that section of Veterans near the overpass. They were talking to the homeless man living out of the shopping cart that you can see in one of the photos, trying to help him. Thank you to everyone for all the comments - a healthy dialogue about an issue like this can only help. - Editor J.V. (author of article)
Diana Reddy February 12, 2013 at 05:57 PM
Thank you for the clarification. Sorry for giving misplaced credit for the article. It was nicely done, and I appreciate the opportunity it provided the general public to better understand how extensive homelessness is in our area. As was mentioned, the One-Day Homeless Count is conducted every two years throughout the country during a specific timeframe to better obtain accurate numbers and avoid duplication. The results of the count are used to calculate funding formulas for the area, so it is critical that it is as accurate as possible.
Linda Jolley February 12, 2013 at 08:48 PM
It is not a matter of us getting funding, as TGD suggested. IT IS A MATTER OF POLITICIANS' ATTITUDES. Roughly a year ago I went to the San Mateo office of Congresswoman Jack Speier. I hand-delivered a letter asking Jackie to seek funding for a well-policed homeless camp here. I offered to start it/run it. I cited its enormous potential for reducing crime and related problems. JACKIE'S AIDE IMMEDIATELY COMMENTED: "We could never get this done. The cities would not allow it." Later I received a "blah-blah" letter signed by Jackie, saying NO THANKS. Jackie's aide was right. Redwood City's policy of searching parked cars in order to exterminate the homeless, and Menlo Park's policy of "no parking at night" shows exactly where these politicians are at. They care about wealthy constituents and they want to run out the homeless. According to Jesus, they will go straight to hell. Or, according to Jolley, maybe straight to the guillotine. Linda Jolley 650-630-3021
TGD February 13, 2013 at 04:39 AM
"It is not a matter of us getting funding, as TGD suggested......I hand-delivered a letter asking Jackie to seek funding for a well-policed homeless camp here." I don't know what I was thinking.
Aaron February 14, 2013 at 02:57 AM
thanks for giving me a chance to clarify the 200 number, Lou. according to the report, of that 500 total figure, 269 are "sheltered" meaning ... in jail, or in a halfway house (like the woman downtown you don't give money to because you know she spends it on lottery tickets.) listed as "unsheltered" means in a car or outdoors and that number is at a very conservative 233. Many in the jail population will list residence addresses of family members, and deny indigence or dereliction... Or lose their homes and apartments in the process of trial or serving their time. The 269 figure of sheltered is constantly at odds with the 233 figure of "unsheltered", and as maguire population is bursting right now... that 269 number will remain stagnant at the 233 number (which I would say is closer to 333 and rising) And I won't even mention the fact that homeless people head up to san francisco a week early if the niners are in the superbowl. When the local teams are doing well, all you gotta do is put on a jerzee and make a cardboard sign asking for beer money and san francisco pays out like a two dollar slot machine. the camps were ghost towns during the census. http://www.co.sanmateo.ca.us/Attachments/humanservices/Files/Homlessness/2011%20Census%20and%20Survey.pdf
Charlotte Fontenot February 14, 2013 at 07:03 PM
so many Homeless in EVERY town, city, state & the woods. We need to HELP the HOMELESS, JOBLESS, HUNGRY & now most are HOPELESS because there are NO JBS especially for VETERANS, SENIORS & now even younger kids!!!! We send money all over the world but NO ONE is HELPING US!!!!
Linda Jolley February 14, 2013 at 10:46 PM
Ernie Schmidt called me and I nearly went into shock. For many years I have been continually enraged at the ignorance and calloused attitudes of government bureaucrats. It seems the people have "let go" of their government and let it do as it pleases. Its crimes include murder, and persecution of the poor. BUT ERNIE KNOCKED MY SOCKS OFF. I really believe he cares, and exercises a rare intelligence that could help the homeless in Redwood City. As an activist of many years, I believe the numbers are at least 5 times what is estimated, and I believe a large campground, or large warehouses, are the only answer. Ernie and I talked turkey, and I believe he is one of the few in high office that can get something launched, with our help. He is accesible at the city's website. I pray that something good will start soon, so that I will not have to unveil all the dirty deeds I have seen. Names on my hit list include Alicia Aguirre, Bob Bell, Dave Genesy, Lori Saldana, Joe Simitian, Jackie Speier . . . . I don't like to waste time sharpening the guillotine, if there are alternatives. Linda Jolley 650-630-3021
Aaron February 16, 2013 at 02:00 AM
Dear Ernie Schmidt. I am really pleased with your comments in this story and it really looks like you have had an epiphany of sorts. Thanks for getting this story written, and thanks for stepping up and volunteering for the census and getting in the shelter network volunteer pool, even after your very shockingly human experience. I got some Ideas and would love a chance to meet with you to talk about them, and fill you in on why the census failed to count a couple dozen or more homeless people in redwood city. Please call me at your convenience. Aaron 650 898 4058
jay April 07, 2013 at 11:29 PM
Aaron April 10, 2013 at 05:37 PM
I think I may have spoken with your wife not too long ago, Jay. "Affordable Housing" in Redwood City doesn't have any meaning for those of us in the working class. Here's why... to rent a one bedroom apartment in redwood city you are looking at a minimum of 1200 bucks... affordable housing supposedly means that rent is less than 30% of your income... so a single person in RWC needs to be making 3600 dollars a month for their (less than modest) one bedroom apartment to be "Affordable" That money that you spend on rent... well .. if you were in the market to own a home your money would go towards your property.. which you keep... so your "rent" is not "rent" at all but is actually retirement security... it's money that you retain in the value of your home. when a person in the rental market is spending 60% of their income just to maintain shelter... and that money is gone from their life forever. Well ... we have hit critical level of income disparity... our modern society has surpassed the wealth and income disparities that throughout our human history have correlated to violent revolution. I don't think people should go to the Guillotine.... but only a fool would get intervene in the version of Justice adopted by an angry mob. anyway .. call me jay ... let's hang out. -aaron 650 898 4058
Linda Jolley April 19, 2013 at 09:28 PM
Thanks to "Jay" for exposing ongoing atrocities of government. He says they "cleaned out" the camp and left everyone with no place to go. That government strategy has worked for governments all over this country. My hands-on experiences with Jack Speier, with mayors of Redwood City, with the RC City Manager, and with RC coucilpersons, have shown clearly that the people have "let go" of their government, and it is controlled by idiots who do not care. Churches are about the only ones doing anything. And let me correct those who claim there is tons of help: there ain't! Right now I am thinking that guillotine is too good for government idiots, and that private persons who can make money should fix this, and we should slash salaries and give the boot to bureaucrats who can only do cosmetics like that cleanout, and smokescreens like "affordable housing." Linda Jolley email: lindajolley9@yahoo.com


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