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LifeMoves seeks to build network of homeless housing projects, calling for funding and political willpower

New CEO wants a rush of new developments for thousands living on the streets, but can it be done?

LifeMoves CEO Aubrey Merriman speaks at an event celebrating the opening of LifeMoves Mountain View, an interim housing complex for the unhoused, on May 25, 2021. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

When Aubrey Merriman joined the nonprofit LifeMoves as its new CEO in April, he had to hit the ground running. In just three months, it was operating a homeless shelter in Half Moon Bay and shortly after opened up an interim housing facility for the homeless in Mountain View in less than a year.

The work got the attention of state officials, with Gov. Gavin Newsom visiting Mountain View to praise LifeMoves and its new approach to housing the homeless.

Merriman said he wants to keep the momentum going, laying out a path for LifeMoves to grow immensely in the coming years. His plan is a tenfold replication of the quick-turnaround housing project in Mountain View spread through the greater Bay Area, with an ultimate goal of solving the regional homeless crisis. It's going to require a surge in funding and political willpower on the part of local cities, he said, but it's no longer acceptable for Silicon Valley to have incredible wealth alongside abject poverty.

"How is it that in the richest area we can still have people who are plummeting into homelessness?" Merriman said. "We have CEOs who are building spaceships and self-driving cars, but we aren't finding a solution to end homelessness once and for all."

Merriman has spent most of his career in the nonprofit world, mostly in youth development. He served as CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of North San Mateo County, before that working in a leadership role with Special Olympics Northern California and Nevada. He said he always had an affinity for working with marginalized communities, and that the opportunity to help those grappling with housing affordability felt too important to walk away from.

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LifeMoves was already growing pretty quickly when he was hired, with more than two dozen homeless housing sites in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. But new plans announced by Merriman in May call for something even more ambitious: A network of interim homeless housing projects throughout the region, each built from the ground up, with a total cost of around $250 million. The plans hinge on replicating LifeMoves Mountain View, which was built in six months and cost $25 million — a price tag that includes the cost of land and running the 100-unit facility.

'Our unhoused neighbors need to be brought indoors today. The streets can no longer be the waiting room.'

-Aubrey Merriman, CEO, LifeMoves

The homes themselves are prefabricated, modular units that are arranged like Lego bricks onsite, making it much cheaper and quicker than traditional construction. Homeless residents are expected to stay for 90 to 120 days before landing a permanent place to live, making a critical step between being on the street and moving into an apartment.

Merriman said the Bay Area is not on pace to build enough traditional housing for all of its homeless residents, and that these interim housing projects can make a huge dent in the problem in a short amount of time. It provides those who are living in parking lots and in encampments a bed and a safe space, giving them a dignified place to live where they won't be hassled by law enforcement.

"While permanent housing is the ultimate long-term goal, it's expensive and takes years to build," he said. "We need to add capacity today. Our unhoused neighbors need to be brought indoors today. The streets can no longer be the waiting room."

In order to build out the network of homeless housing projects, Merriman said local city councils will have to keep an open mind and be willing to solve the problem locally rather than shift the problem to the next town over. His hope is that LifeMoves Mountain View will be an example for other cities, showing that interim housing can be woven into the community and blend right in, and can one day be viewed as a public resource not unlike a library or a post office.

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As for the money to pay for it, Merriman said he is openly leaning on corporate sponsorship and massive tech companies in the area to pitch in, and that he cannot harbor any shame or shyness around making the big financial ask.

"Far too often public benefit corporations try to dance around that, but the situation is too dire for me to speak in code," he said. "Silicon Valley has big hearts and big wallets."

LifeMoves CEO Aubrey Merriman speaks at an event celebrating the opening of LifeMoves Mountain View, an interim housing complex for the unhoused, on May 25, 2021. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

While LifeMoves has traditionally operated in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, Merriman said the organization is looking at options across all nine Bay Area counties. Possible projects even farther away would likely need to be spearheaded by another organization, he said, but LifeMoves could still provide resources to get the ball rolling.

Homelessness has been a perennial problem in the region, and it's getting worse. The latest census from 2019 found that homelessness is surging in many Bay Area counties, and that the vast majority do not have access to a homeless shelter.

Despite the daunting task, Merriman stands by his goal of eliminating homelessness, and that LifeMoves has the roadmap to get there.

"Supportive interim housing solutions can visibly and dramatically impact the homelessness crisis in much the same ways as the pandemic impacted traffic," he said. "This is part of what fuels my optimism and conviction."

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Kevin Forestieri writes for the Mountain View Voice, a sister publication of PaloAltoOnline.com.

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LifeMoves seeks to build network of homeless housing projects, calling for funding and political willpower

New CEO wants a rush of new developments for thousands living on the streets, but can it be done?

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Tue, Jul 13, 2021, 12:14 pm

When Aubrey Merriman joined the nonprofit LifeMoves as its new CEO in April, he had to hit the ground running. In just three months, it was operating a homeless shelter in Half Moon Bay and shortly after opened up an interim housing facility for the homeless in Mountain View in less than a year.

The work got the attention of state officials, with Gov. Gavin Newsom visiting Mountain View to praise LifeMoves and its new approach to housing the homeless.

Merriman said he wants to keep the momentum going, laying out a path for LifeMoves to grow immensely in the coming years. His plan is a tenfold replication of the quick-turnaround housing project in Mountain View spread through the greater Bay Area, with an ultimate goal of solving the regional homeless crisis. It's going to require a surge in funding and political willpower on the part of local cities, he said, but it's no longer acceptable for Silicon Valley to have incredible wealth alongside abject poverty.

"How is it that in the richest area we can still have people who are plummeting into homelessness?" Merriman said. "We have CEOs who are building spaceships and self-driving cars, but we aren't finding a solution to end homelessness once and for all."

Merriman has spent most of his career in the nonprofit world, mostly in youth development. He served as CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of North San Mateo County, before that working in a leadership role with Special Olympics Northern California and Nevada. He said he always had an affinity for working with marginalized communities, and that the opportunity to help those grappling with housing affordability felt too important to walk away from.

LifeMoves was already growing pretty quickly when he was hired, with more than two dozen homeless housing sites in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. But new plans announced by Merriman in May call for something even more ambitious: A network of interim homeless housing projects throughout the region, each built from the ground up, with a total cost of around $250 million. The plans hinge on replicating LifeMoves Mountain View, which was built in six months and cost $25 million — a price tag that includes the cost of land and running the 100-unit facility.

The homes themselves are prefabricated, modular units that are arranged like Lego bricks onsite, making it much cheaper and quicker than traditional construction. Homeless residents are expected to stay for 90 to 120 days before landing a permanent place to live, making a critical step between being on the street and moving into an apartment.

Merriman said the Bay Area is not on pace to build enough traditional housing for all of its homeless residents, and that these interim housing projects can make a huge dent in the problem in a short amount of time. It provides those who are living in parking lots and in encampments a bed and a safe space, giving them a dignified place to live where they won't be hassled by law enforcement.

"While permanent housing is the ultimate long-term goal, it's expensive and takes years to build," he said. "We need to add capacity today. Our unhoused neighbors need to be brought indoors today. The streets can no longer be the waiting room."

In order to build out the network of homeless housing projects, Merriman said local city councils will have to keep an open mind and be willing to solve the problem locally rather than shift the problem to the next town over. His hope is that LifeMoves Mountain View will be an example for other cities, showing that interim housing can be woven into the community and blend right in, and can one day be viewed as a public resource not unlike a library or a post office.

As for the money to pay for it, Merriman said he is openly leaning on corporate sponsorship and massive tech companies in the area to pitch in, and that he cannot harbor any shame or shyness around making the big financial ask.

"Far too often public benefit corporations try to dance around that, but the situation is too dire for me to speak in code," he said. "Silicon Valley has big hearts and big wallets."

While LifeMoves has traditionally operated in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, Merriman said the organization is looking at options across all nine Bay Area counties. Possible projects even farther away would likely need to be spearheaded by another organization, he said, but LifeMoves could still provide resources to get the ball rolling.

Homelessness has been a perennial problem in the region, and it's getting worse. The latest census from 2019 found that homelessness is surging in many Bay Area counties, and that the vast majority do not have access to a homeless shelter.

Despite the daunting task, Merriman stands by his goal of eliminating homelessness, and that LifeMoves has the roadmap to get there.

"Supportive interim housing solutions can visibly and dramatically impact the homelessness crisis in much the same ways as the pandemic impacted traffic," he said. "This is part of what fuels my optimism and conviction."

Kevin Forestieri writes for the Mountain View Voice, a sister publication of PaloAltoOnline.com.

Comments

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 13, 2021 at 6:26 pm
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Jul 13, 2021 at 6:26 pm
Larry Delgado
Registered user
Ventura
on Jul 14, 2021 at 9:42 am
Larry Delgado, Ventura
Registered user
on Jul 14, 2021 at 9:42 am
efs
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Jul 14, 2021 at 10:36 am
efs, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Jul 14, 2021 at 10:36 am

This is a proposal of amazing ambition and humanity. Let's hear it for Aubrey Merriman and Life Moves.


Stepheny
Registered user
Midtown
on Jul 14, 2021 at 5:38 pm
Stepheny , Midtown
Registered user
on Jul 14, 2021 at 5:38 pm

Is there a plan after "housing our neighbors" to get these people jobs? Before the unhoused move into homes which are subsidized by cities and corporations, there should be metrics for workable and working lives. There are job openings all over, but because of the Federal and State payments -- and free housing and meals -- there is not much incentive to work.


Olivia Montenegro
Registered user
another community
on Jul 15, 2021 at 4:35 pm
Olivia Montenegro, another community
Registered user
on Jul 15, 2021 at 4:35 pm

It would be nice if every city had a small community of these pre-fab units for the homeless population.

Kind of like a hostel.


Citizen
Registered user
College Terrace
on Jul 19, 2021 at 4:22 pm
Citizen , College Terrace
Registered user
on Jul 19, 2021 at 4:22 pm

How is it that in the richest area we can still have people who are plummeting into homelessness?" Merriman said.

Because the unsheltered homeless have either mental health issues, a substance abuse addiction, or both. See the UCLA study.

People should support themselves rather than seek to burden others to pay their way. Those mentally ill or addicted place a great burden, threatening the safety of others, and via hygiene and by disease transmission. This isn't fair to the rest of us to have them endangering others. Paying for people just encourages more if the bad behavior.


eileen
Registered user
College Terrace
on Jul 20, 2021 at 9:18 am
eileen , College Terrace
Registered user
on Jul 20, 2021 at 9:18 am

"Citizen", it would help if you did a little research on the effects of mental illness on people. Not everyone has a support system in place to help them. Addiction is often a result of trauma and mental issues. The government needs to step up and help these folks.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 21, 2021 at 8:58 am
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Jul 21, 2021 at 8:58 am

Many reports now of homeless who refuse to go into temporary homes because the requirements for being in the homes is too intrusive. The goal is to get them out there working and building new lives. Some do not want to follow the rules for being in the homes. Need to focus on those people who are willing to follow the rules and comply with the house rules. There is a wide range of personality types in the homeless caegory and there is no one-size fits all solution. Recognize the successes and acknowledge that not all situations are resolvable by throwing money at them.


Terrence MacCafrey
Registered user
Community Center
on Jul 21, 2021 at 9:09 am
Terrence MacCafrey, Community Center
Registered user
on Jul 21, 2021 at 9:09 am

>"Many reports now of homeless who refuse to go into temporary homes because the requirements for being in the homes is too intrusive."

True, but there is a partial solution.

In Los Angeles, the city is allowing homeless encampments and providing three meals a day at these designated areas.

The cost: $60,000.00 per homeless person per year.

Cities should actively pursue Gavin Newsom's homeless relief funds and then decide on their own whether to have homeless camps or to provide actual shelters.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 21, 2021 at 9:21 am
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Jul 21, 2021 at 9:21 am

where does Gavin get the money? Follow the money. Is it federal subsidy or state generated income from taxes? People keep providing solutions which only address their desired end solution. Start at the beginning of the problem - not the end of the problem. Every political topic out there is now ideology with no actual beginning and end result.


Pierce Latham
Registered user
Stanford
on Jul 22, 2021 at 8:04 am
Pierce Latham, Stanford
Registered user
on Jul 22, 2021 at 8:04 am

With all of its available land, Stanford University could/should consider assisting Palo Alto in reducing the homeless situation.

A pre-screening of homeless occupants would be imperative so that only Palo Alto retains the homeless individuals with prior arrest records, mental health and/or substance abuse issues.

Palo Alto has a larger police force and is better suited to handle the incorrigible ones.


Felicity Jameson
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 22, 2021 at 9:01 am
Felicity Jameson, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Jul 22, 2021 at 9:01 am

We once took in a homeless person and after about two weeks in our ADU, the individual disappeared one day and never returned.

All that was missing was a blanket.

Perhaps other Palo Alto residents could invite a homeless person into their homes for a short period of time.


Philomena Jacobsen
Registered user
another community
on Jul 22, 2021 at 9:14 am
Philomena Jacobsen, another community
Registered user
on Jul 22, 2021 at 9:14 am

We prefer to give money to the homeless people we periodically encounter on the streets.

Not much, usually around $20.00 or so.

The monetary gift is always appreciated and we view it as an extension of Palo Alto hospitality and humanity.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 22, 2021 at 10:24 am
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Jul 22, 2021 at 10:24 am
Dirk Halstrom
Registered user
Barron Park
on Jul 22, 2021 at 10:29 am
Dirk Halstrom, Barron Park
Registered user
on Jul 22, 2021 at 10:29 am

@Resident 1-Adobe Meadows

I think what Philomena (regardless of her residency) was trying to say is that she gives money to the homeless whenever she is in Palo Alto.

Nothing wrong with that.


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