Homeless numbers rise
The city of Half Moon Bay cleaned up this homeless encampment within the last year, but that did not cause the number of homeless to drop in 2019. Kyle Ludowitz / Review

After four years of decline, Coastside homelessness appeared to increase between 2017 and 2019, according to data released by San Mateo County on Monday morning.

Volunteers counted 54 people experiencing unsheltered homelessness in Half Moon Bay on Jan. 31, an increase of 11 people from 2017. Homelessness in unincorporated Coastside communities nearly tripled, from 22 in 2017 to 60 in 2019. In all, 1,512 people were counted as homeless in San Mateo County, an increase of over 250 individuals from the 2017 count.

The counts are mandated by federal authorities, in part to inform government relief funding decisions.

Half Moon Bay homelessness reached a decade high of 114 in 2013, mirroring a county-wide trend. Observed homelessness declined in each of the past two one-day counts before increasing in 2019.

Deputy City Manager Matthew Chidester said he was surprised by the uptick given the city’s recent work addressing homelessness. In May 2018, the city closed a homeless encampment behind Strawflower Village, citing environmental concerns. Chidester estimated the entire cost of the project, which included cleaning up trash and an environmental remediation plan, at $390,000.

At the time, the city connected homeless people with organizations like LifeMoves, which attempts to help people get back on their feet. It also worked with Abundant Grace Coastside Worker and started a temporary employment program, subsidized by the city, that pays homeless residents to clean trash at local parks, beaches and trails.

Those efforts did not result in housing for many of the city’s homeless. Some in the encampment merely moved to nearby camps.

The county reported a 127 percent increase in people living in RVs — a change that appeared to account for a large portion of the increase. Nearly 500 individuals were counted in RVs, making up 55 percent of the unsheltered homeless population.

Chidester said he suspected that the increase in people living in RVs accounted for the rise in Coastside homeless populations. Those living in RVs may be forced to move from place to place. Municipal code in Half Moon Bay and the unincorporated Coastside communities limit parking to 72 hours in one spot.

“What I will tell you is that if a person is moving regularly or not really setting up camp, it’s unlikely that they’re going to be cited for that here in Half Moon Bay,” Chidester said.

Adjoining counties reported increased homelessness as well. In May, Santa Clara County announced an overall homeless count of 9,706, an increase of 2,312 people from 2017. That same month, San Francisco announced its homeless population topped 8,000.

Coastside Hope executive director Judith Guerrero said the regional housing crisis is affecting more Coastsiders, but worried if demand for affordable housing will be met.

“It’s easier said than done,” she said.

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