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. That prompted employees to refer people 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 60 people. But over the weekend, as night time temperatures dipped into the low teens and the available beds quickly running out, the Helen Vine Detox Center, a drug recovery facility in San Rafael, began taking people in.
“We've been reaching capacity, but we don't want to discourage people from accessing services," said Christine Paquette, an employee of St. Vincent de Paul Society in San Rafael.
An estimated 1,200 people in Marin County lack permanent housing, according to the county’s Health and Human Services. 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 County 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.
But not everyone agrees that building more homeless shelters is the answer.
Mary Kay Sweeney, executive director of Homeward Bound of Marin, which runs four year-round housing facilities for the homeless, says more affordable housing throughout the county can have a more significant impact.
“We can open more shelters, but people still have nowhere to go after they get out,” 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.”