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Homeless Shelters Stretched Thin by Cold Temperatures

With just 215 shelter beds for the homeless in the county, space is quickly running out

As cold temperatures continue, spots at permanent and emergency shelters throughout Marin County are filling up fast.

At Mill Street, a year around facility in San Rafael run by Homeward Bound of Marin, all 55 beds were occupied this week. So was New Beginnings in Novato, another permanent facility with 80 beds, with workers referring newcomers to  emergency shelters set up up at local churches through the Rotating Emergency Shelter Team program (REST).

The program is run by Marin congregations and sets up emergency shelter for about 40 people. The Helen Vine Detox Center in San Rafael has also been accepting people with nowhere to go.

“So far no one has been turned away,” said Teddy Ryan, assistant director of Mill Street.

An estimated 1,200 people in Marin County lack permanent housing, according to the county’s Health and Human Services and another 4,000 are considered “precariously housed” and at risk of homelessness.

No deaths due to exposure have been reported in Marin County this season, but four homeless men in Santa Clara died of hypothermia this week.

Providers in Marin say they expect the number of people seeking shelter from the extreme weather to only increase as people on a fixed income, such as SSI, run out of money and no longer able to afford a motel room.

To Mary Kay Sweeney, executive director of Homeward Bound of Marin, which runs four year-round housing facilities for the homeless, the answer is not building more shelters but more affordable housing.

“We can open more shelters, but people still have nowhere to go after they get out of the shelter,” she said.

The organization is planning to break ground on Oma Village, a small development on Novato’s Nave Drive that will providing housing for 14 low-income families.

“There is a place for shelters, especially this time of the year,” said Sweeney. “But whether we want to spend more resources toward shelters or building permanent affordable housing is really a question we need to ask ourselves as a county.”

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