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East Palo Alto homeless shelter opens in time for cold weather

By Joshua Adam Hicks | 23 Nov 2010

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Jesse Carter, 61, holds a plate of food at EPA Connect II, a Project We HOPE event that provided free food, shelter and health services to the homeless and those at risk of homelessness. (Photo: Josh Hicks)

East Palo Alto’s only homeless shelter opened Thursday in time for the cold-weather season due in part to a $30,000 city grant.

Project We HOPE will use the funds to operate a warming shelter until March 31, between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. daily. The facility, in a gymnasium at 1858 Bay Road, holds a maximum of 30 people per night.

East Palo Alto has the highest per capita rate of homelessness in San Mateo County. In late January 2009, according to Census figures, there were roughly 230 people living without permanent shelter in the city of 30,000 residents.

The Project WeHOPE shelter is entering its second year as a stopgap solution for East Palo Alto, which is in the midst of developing a comprehensive plan to address homelessness. Some of the city’s homeless congregate in an area called “The Field of Dreams” on the north end of Demeter Street. Most who dwell there reside in shelters made of plywood or cardboard. Others have dug caves into the hillside.

“When they don’t have a roof over their head, don’t have nourishing meals, when they’re in inclement weather – those are dangerous attacks on their mental, physical and spiritual well-being,” said the Rev. Paul Bains, president of Project WeHOPE.

Project WeHOPE had aimed to open its shelter earlier this month, but funding has been slow to arrive in a time of budget cuts and economic stagnation. An additional $35,000 is needed to keep the warming center open through April, according to project leaders.

East Palo Alto City Council member Carlos Romero questioned the efficiency of the Project WeHOPE warming center during a council meeting Nov. 17. The daily cost of operating the facility, which he estimated at $90 per person each night, seemed high, Romero said.

“For that price, we could give these people vouchers and send them people to hotels,” he said.

Project WeHOPE chairman Morris Chubb responded that hotels cannot provide the services and supplies his organization offers. “It is our desire to give these people shelter, as well as bedding, food and some clothing each night that they stay with us,” Chubb said in an interview.

Ultimately, Romero made the motion to grant the shelter $30,000 – an increase from the city’s 2009 donation of $24,500, but less than Project WeHOPE had requested for 2010.

On Nov. 19, Project WeHOPE held EPA Connect II, an open-house event billed as “a day of assistance, counseling and care for the homeless and those at risk of homelessness.” More than 100 people attended the gathering, which included bicycle repairs, flu shots, haircuts and food, all free of charge.

The Rev. Mary Frazier, meantime, is working to establish a permanent homeless shelter in East Palo Alto through her local Bread of Life Evangelistic Outreach.

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