A Place to Call Home

Editor’s Note: ASA is focusing on homelessness, housing and hunger, watch for a Generations Today issue on the topic May 18.

A group of older adults sits on the communal outdoor patio of Shores Landing in Redwood City, Calif., chatting about the spring weather gracing the Bay Area. Smiles add to the light of the late afternoon sun that hangs over a shoreline walking trail, next to the apartments they call home.

One Shores Landing resident adjusts his San Francisco Giants cap and mentions the impending start of baseball season. He reminisces about his time spent as a kid just a few miles down the road at Candlestick Park, once home to the Giants and San Francisco 49ers, now a flattened plot of land awaiting its next life as a combination of residences and retail. A married couple looks forward to grilling outside when it gets a bit warmer, while another woman speaks proudly of her adult children. One year ago, these cheerful conversations would not have been taking place. One year ago, these residents were unhoused or being moved from shelter to shelter—some living out of their cars.

San Mateo is one example of a Bay Area County that is—through use of federal and state funds—intentionally creating housing for the unhoused, and effectively reducing the number of people experiencing homelessness to “functional zero,” as it is being touted in housing circles.

Some residents were excited to use their full kitchens, then realized they had been homeless for so long they didn’t remember how to cook.

This means that the number of available supportive or transitional housing units is equal to or greater than the number of unhoused people. In late 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continued unabated, MidPen Housing and the Mental Health Association of San Mateo County (MHA) were selected to operate and manage a senior supportive housing community at the 95-room former Marriott TownePlace Suites hotel in the Redwood Shores neighborhood of Redwood City. The County acquired the TownePlace Suites in December 2020 using Homekey Program funds awarded by the State of California to create a permanent housing solution for its most vulnerable residents.

Less than six months after the site was acquired, and as a result of collaboration from teams across MidPen and the County, what is now known as Shores Landing opened its doors to extremely low-income adults ages 62 and older, prioritizing the formerly unhoused, people who are at risk of becoming unhoused, those who have lost their homes due to COVID-19, or are medically vulnerable and enrolled in the County’s Community Care Settings program.

Full Kitchens, Support Services

Janet Anderson is a case manager in MidPen’s Resident Services organization, who has been working with the Shores Landing team since March of 2021. “It was an eye opener for some residents who said they were ready to utilize their full kitchen and begin cooking again, then realized they had been homeless for a while and didn’t really remember how to cook,” she said.

“And I remember the resident who was so excited to sign up for healthcare and get a primary physician. This resident continues to tell me about every doctor’s appointment and every success, as well as every time things may not go according to plan.”

Shores Landing residents receive a robust set of supportive services provided by MidPen and MHA, such as case management, housing stability support, individual service plans, community-based referrals, health education and wellness programming, life skills development and lease compliance services.

Case managers from MidPen and MHA work with residents who have been unhoused for anywhere between one and 40 years, helping with essential services including food security, obtaining healthcare, signing up for transportation, becoming more financially stable, gaining better employment opportunities, and getting approved for in-home support services. What’s more: These residents now understand—and accept—that they won’t have to get up and pack their bags again.

“When I talk with residents, they feel blessed to not be in a shelter or live out of their cars anymore. They appreciate a safe place to call home,” said Laura Tachine, another MidPen case manager. “At Shores Landing, they know the support is always here from case management, property management and MHA case managers who assist them to continue being independent and live their lives to the fullest potential they can.”

‘When I talk with residents, they feel blessed to not be in a shelter or live out of their cars anymore.’

To the general public, the idea of ongoing homelessness can feel overwhelming, perhaps even more so for Bay Area residents who have concurrently seen news of increased spending on housing and encampments sprouting up throughout the region—making it seem as if there’s no solution in sight. In reality we have the solution: permanent supportive housing. After two years, the Homekey Program has created more than 8,000 homes for people experiencing homelessness in less than two years—and on the MidPen side, a 97% retention rate speaks well of the idea of truly permanent housing.

Over the next five years, MidPen’s ambitious goals include reducing and preventing homelessness through support for permanent supportive housing for formerly homeless, at-risk and extremely low-income people by ensuring rents for 40% of all new homes produced are affordable to these households.

With ongoing support for public funding sources such as the Homekey Program, this goal can be met—and even exceeded. But more impactful than that, these funds help create more permanent supportive housing for older adults like those we see at Shores Landing and other communities similar to it.

MidPen Housing has the great privilege of working with internal teams and partners in San Mateo and 10 other Bay Area counties to fulfill its mission of providing safe, affordable housing to those who need it most. Along with a home comes the sense of security in community, connection, and for the older population, the ability to age—and thrive—with dignity.

Matthew Franklin is president and CEO of MidPen Housing in Foster City, Calif.