Residents file writ opposing Homekey site of chronically homeless project

By Katy St. Clair

Residents of Larkspur, Marin County have filed a writ to shut down an approved affordable housing complex for the chronically homeless through the Homekey project. The group, The South Eliseo Neighborhood Alliance, says the county erred when it exempted the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) from its ruling.

The writ, filed March 23 and which also names Episcopal Community Services of San Francisco, cites “significant” impacts on traffic, air and soil quality, as well as impacts on noise, flood plains and the wetlands he would have on the parcel, located at 1251 Eliseo Drive. The address is a former skilled nursing facility.

The county began talking about turning the site into a Project Homekey site in September of last year. The Homekey Project is a state program that attributes to the “housing first” philosophy that people living with chronic homelessness and mental illness should have a roof over their heads to better stabilize their lives. so that they can tackle their other problems.

In October 2021, the Eliseo Drive location was declared CEQA-free by the Marin Community Development Agency.

In February, Marin’s Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a grant from Project Homekey in the amount of $15,497,200 to acquire and develop the Eliseo site. According to the writ, 122 people expressed their opposition to the plan at the meeting, with 70 in favor.

On February 8, Larkspur City Council offered to write a letter to supervisors with community concerns and it was signed by the Mayor. The letter was in response to the 61 residents who weighed in on the idea before council, with 48 opposing the Homekey project site and 13 supporting it.

A petition opposing the project was also circulated, titled “Keep our children safe by stopping the homeless settlement next to the playground and schools”, which received 2,808 signatures. .

Greenbrae resident Kevin Carroll was among supporters of the Project Homekey site, which he says is already right across the street from the county’s only crisis center for people with mental illness. Carroll has a son with schizophrenia who has been chronically homeless for years, he said. Carroll said that although her son is from Marin County, there has never been any meaningful support or services for his complex condition. Currently, he said his son lives in a park a few blocks from the house he grew up in and the elementary school he attended.

“He’s there because that’s the last time he felt normal in a space,” Carroll said. “He’s now 40. So he’s been involved in the system for 30 years and it’s very difficult.”

Carroll said he doesn’t think California has done enough to support people with mental illness after then-Governor Ronald Reagan deinstitutionalized people living in state hospitals with mental illness. mental illnesses or disabilities in the 1960s. Carroll has another son with a developmental disability, who he says has far more state supports, as well as civil rights and housing guaranteed by the Lanterman Act.

Carroll said he understands the arguments on both sides of the Project Homekey site issue, but said until Marin takes action such as providing people with housing, homeless people will continue to tax the time and money from the police and other agencies.

Carroll said his son had repeatedly obtained housing vouchers, but no landlord in Marin had wanted to rent to anyone in his state or through Section 8. As a result, he said , the county had to step up and that’s what the Project Homekey site is all about.

“It’s very tough here in Marin County,” he said. “There’s a very low vacancy rate to start with. It’s tough if you’re a landlord and you have a choice between someone with a great credit rating or a good Section 8. Unfortunately, a lot of owners will go with the person with the great credit and not take the good one. That’s just the reality.”

Residents who spoke out against the Homekey project site at the Larkspur council meeting in February were largely parents who feared for their children’s safety.

“They have the same services in San Francisco,” Greenbrae resident Steven Chesley said on behalf of him and his wife. “They go out to do drugs and have sex on the street. We are definitely opposed to this project.”

Larkspur resident James Holmes described the scheme as a “virtual asylum for the insane, drug addicts and convicts”.

Randy Collins from Larkspur questioned the message this would send.

“I don’t need experts to tell me this is a bad idea,” he said. “I would never raise my children saying, no matter what you do, no matter what crimes you commit, what drugs you take, your behavior, no matter what you do, I will house you and feed you. .”

On the South Eliseo Neighborhood Alliance website, the group says the project was “rushed” in order to secure state funding.

“By illegally applying the (CEQA) exemption, they circumvented environmental protections such as diligently seeking alternative methods to achieve their goals,” it read. “The county also ignored the public comment process where the majority of commenters expressed opposition to the project. Had the county been more responsive to public comment, it may have found other solutions.”

The Project Roomkey site on Eliseo Drive will house between 43 and 50 people who have experienced chronic homelessness. It should be moving forward within a year. According to Gary Naja-Riese, director of homelessness and whole person care for Marin County, the resort will have a 24/7 staff presence, including on-site property management. There will also be case management and clinical services on site, primarily during normal business hours. A community safety services team (CSST) will serve as a community liaison to prevent and defuse any problems. Case management will include health, behavioral health, counselling, benefits advocacy, financial literacy and food. The ratio of staff to customers will be 1:17.

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