For women and families with children seeking sanctuary from the cold winter weather, Christmas came a little early this year.
On Saturday night, Trinity United Methodist Church rolled out fifty beds and laid out long aluminum pans full of hot food, transforming the church in downtown Mountain View into a seasonal homeless shelter for North County residents. A handful of women trickled into the shelter -- a slow start, but that's to be expected, according to shelter staff.
The winter homeless shelter, at the corner of Hope and Mercy streets, marks the latest effort by Santa Clara County to provide badly needed shelter beds during the frigid months of the year. On any given night, about 4,800 people go without shelter and end up sleeping in cars, on the streets and along the creek, according to county estimates.
Homeless residents of Mountain View are given priority for the limited spots in the shelter, followed by the rest of the North County region, according to Bob Dolci of the county's Office of Supportive Housing. The Community Services Agency of Mountain View and Los Altos is the primary referral agency, and has already directed two dozen people to the shelter.
Efforts to open the shelter began in January, spearheaded by Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian and Michael Love, the pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church. Although the proposal -- a homeless shelter located squarely in a single-family residential neighborhood -- seemed bound for opposition, the Old Mountain View community and the downtown businesses largely embraced the idea. The permit application glided through the city's approval process without resistance.
Dolci, who faced significant opposition on two shelter proposals in Sunnyvale in recent years, said it's possible that residents in the community already saw the church as a resource for the homeless. The nonprofit Hope's Corner has been operating out of the church since 2011, providing free meals on Saturday morning and showers throughout the week.
"I believe it was because Hope's Corner has been around so long and has done so much for the poor," Dolci said. "There was very little opposition."
It also helped that Simitian's office pulled out all the stops to inform the local community to solicit and address any concerns, Dolci said. Staff from the county housing office held several meetings, met with the business community and reached out to residents on NextDoor, even holding a community meeting in the Opal Nightclub. "The owner was great to work with," Dolci said.
Although the shelter was slated to open its doors on Nov. 27, it was delayed by nearly a month pending the installation of fire safety equipment. But the city did its part to speed things up by sending in staff every day last week to inspect the progress, said Leslie Carmichael, board president of Hope's Corner.
Even with Mountain View's new shelter, the need still outweighs the demand. There are already 70 people competing for the 50 beds, Dolci said, and the waiting list to get into the nearby Sunnyvale cold weather shelter eclipsed 300 as of Thanksgiving.
What sets Mountain View's shelter apart, however, is that it provides a space specifically for women and children who might otherwise feel uncomfortable in a typical shelter setting.
"We know they are some of the most desperate people we serve," Dolci said.