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In a land of rising rents, Opportunity Center offers reprieve

By Miranda Shepherd | 8 Apr 2014

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When most people think of housing in Palo Alto, they think of some of the most expensive real estate in the country.

The reality of multi-million dollar houses exists alongside a significant homeless population — some of whom lost their homes due to rising rents throughout the Midpeninsula area. As counties that receive federal funding for homeless services, Santa Clara County and San Mateo County conduct Point-in-Time counts once every two years to get an estimate of the number of homeless individuals living in the area. The most recent counts, taken in January 2013, found 7,631 homeless individuals living in Santa Clara County and 2,281 homeless individuals living in San Mateo County. Both counts represented a marked increase since the 2011 surveys: a six-percent increase in Santa Clara County and an eight-percent increase in San Mateo County.

Located in Palo Alto, the Opportunity Center provides a wide variety of services to the unhoused populations of Palo Alto, East Palo Alto and Menlo Park, with affordable housing and supportive services like hot breakfasts and a clothing closet of donated items. The Opportunity Center was created through a collaborative effort of the Community Working Group, the Housing Authority of the County of Santa Clara and the Inn Vision Shelter Network.

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Opportunity Center’s “clothing closet” of donated items. (Miranda Shepherd / Peninsula Press)

Michael Hollingshead, one of the senior case managers at the Opportunity Center, explained that he uses the term “unhoused” as opposed to homeless when referring to many of his clients because for so many of them: “Palo Alto is their home.” Hollingshead argues that the search for low-income housing is one of the largest problems for the center, especially when clients want to stay in Palo Alto.

The median monthly rent in Palo Alto is more than double the nationwide average, and many former renters, like Tomas Lopez, say the rents have become too expensive for many families. Tomas Lopez and his son used to rent in the area. But when rents increased, Lopez said he could no longer afford their one-bedroom apartment. Lopez came to the Opportunity Center to drop off an application for low-income housing, but he stays for the clothing closet.

On Wednesdays, the Opportunity Center creates a free store to distribute donations in a timely and orderly fashion. The lines may get long, but Lopez explained that the clothing closet is invaluable, especially during the winter. The Opportunity Center is always in need of clothing donations — men’s clothing in particular. For more information, check out: www.communityworkinggroup.org.

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