Calling it an innovative new approach that can swiftly reduce the Bay Area's growing homelessness problem, Mountain View city officials announced Thursday the opening of a new homeless housing project that went from an ambitious idea to a reality in just nine months.
The project, called LifeMoves Mountain View, is an interim housing facility at 2566 Leghorn St. that can house about 124 people at a time, stabilizing homeless residents and putting them on the path to permanent housing. The lean project banked on the cheap and quick use of modular, prefabricated homes, bringing the costs down to just $100,000 per unit.
Leaders of the Menlo Park-based nonprofit LifeMoves, which runs the site, said Mountain View doesn't have to be an anomaly either. The virtual ribbon cutting of the project Thursday marked not only the introduction of 100 badly needed homeless housing units, but also a proof of concept. LifeMoves has essentially created a road map for replication, and the hope is that more cities will follow suit.
The origins of the project date back to August, when city housing officials worked with LifeMoves on a way to tap into state funding through California's Homekey program. Though Homekey largely revolved around the concept of cities and counties buying up hotels and motels and converting them into homeless housing, Mountain View took a different tack. Instead of buying a motel, the city found an industrial lot used to store vehicles, razed the site and packed it with small, modular homes.
Though not intended as long-term housing, the LifeMoves housing complex is a big step up from homeless shelters. Individual homes each have locked doors and provide privacy and security for residents, and families living in the complex will have their own bathrooms. Rather than completely pack the site with units, the goal was to create a community with plenty of space for residents to thrive, said Mountain View Mayor Ellen Kamei.
"We are introducing an inviting community that has a playground, a dog run, and individual modular units for households including families and their pets," Kamei said.
Giving props to Mountain View for the new homeless housing project during the Thursday ribbon-cutting event was California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who said in a prerecorded statement that the city and LifeMoves have created a "shining example" of what can be done to solve homelessness. He noted that the Homekey program has been used to create more than 6,000 homes for tens of thousands of people, and that Mountain View was expeditious in turning the state funding into a real project.
"Like so many other Homekey projects, this one came in on time and under budget," Newsom said. "We're doing what they said couldn't be done — to unlock thousands of homes for the homeless at a lower cost and a faster pace than ever before."
Dozens of people have already been identified to move in starting next week, said Joanne Price, vice president of real estate and operations for LifeMoves. Once there, clients will have far more than a roof over their heads — they also will have access to case management, an on-site nurse, mental health care, parenting resources and education programs. The goal is to swiftly get residents stabilized, back on their feet and into other housing in under 120 days, which can be done with a comprehensive suite of services.
By her estimate, about one-third of those who "graduate" from LifeMoves interim housing get qualified for permanent housing, one-third move in with relatives and one-third relocate to a place that's more affordable.
Bolstering LifeMoves Mountain View has been Santa Clara County, which provides ongoing funding to operate the site, along with hefty philanthropic donations. LinkedIn is providing the money to sponsor a full-time employment specialist to help residents find stable work, while Google's foundation pitched in a $1.5 million grant. Jacquelline Fuller, president of Google.org, said in a prerecorded video that LifeMoves has worked tirelessly to help those facing homelessness, and praised its approach to stabilizing its clients.
"The LifeMoves team is very importantly pairing the housing together with vital wraparound services," Fuller said. "Things like counseling and employment support and health care to really meet the needs of the people that they're serving."
While the ribbon cutting largely focused on the Mountain View project, LiveMoves CEO Aubrey Merriman made clear that this was just the beginning. He said the same formula — from finding land to the speedy six-month construction — can and must be replicated 10 times over in order to stamp out the homelessness problem in its entirety. He described the Thursday celebration as a call to action for cities, counties and businesses to pitch follow in the footsteps of Mountain View, with a goal of raising $250 million for the effort.
"We know that Silicon Valley has a big heart, and we also know that Silicon Valley has a big collective wallet," Merriman said. "So now is the time for people to step up and really allow us to attack homelessness in a real significant way."
LifeMoves' blueprint closely mirrors what happened in Mountain View. In looking for suitable land, the nonprofit recommends a roughly 1-acre site — preferably with industrial or commercial zoning — that's close to transit and amenities and at least 500 feet from schools. It also requires a willing city or county to expedite the process, flying through the approval process in just a few months rather than one to two years.
Price said there isn't time to be sluggish while the problem gets worse, pointing to the rapid increase in homelessness in Mountain View. The problem can quickly get out of hand, she said, but right now it can be solved.
"If we don't act now, when are we going to act? If we let this problem expand and multiply any further, it's going to be harder to manage," she said. "If it's business as usual and we're going to follow the three to five-year project timelines, how are we going to get out of the situation today?"