Budget cuts squeeze Martinez's emergency family shelter

Budget cuts squeeze Martinez's emergency family shelter

Article by Lisa P. White, Contra Costa Times

MARTINEZ -- Shasta Vane and her children moved into Mountain View Emergency Family Shelter in May after she spent nine months in a residential drug treatment program.

The family of four had nowhere else to go. For Vane, who said she has lived in cars and seedy motels, this second stint at Mountain View is another chance to get her life back on track. Vane is determined to succeed this time, and grateful she was able to return.

"I needed a safer environment for me and all my kids to be," said Vane, 28. "It's like a steppingstone to get back on your feet. It gives you a good foundation to get started."

Mountain View is one of two family shelters in Contra Costa County. Like other programs in the county that serve the poor, Mountain View is struggling under the combined burden of state and federal budget cuts and higher demand fueled by the lingering fallout from the 2008 economic crisis.

The shelter, which provides housing, food and services to about 30 adults and children at a time, faces a $70,000 budget shortfall in the upcoming fiscal year, according to Tim O'Keefe, executive director of Martinez-based Shelter Inc., which operates the shelter.

Mountain View receives funding through the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Emergency Food and Shelter National Board Program, which in 2012 awarded Contra Costa $542,548. But with the across-the-board federal budget cuts that took effect in March, O'Keefe doesn't know how much money the county will receive this year.

"Our biggest challenge for next year is this reduction we're expecting from FEMA," said O'Keefe, noting that it costs $35,000 per month to operate the Mountain View shelter. "In 10 months, that means I close my doors if I don't have that funding problem resolved."

The social safety net is fraying at a time when suburban poverty is on the rise, according to a recent study from the Brookings Institution. In East Contra Costa, the number of people living in poverty has grown by 70 percent over the past decade, the report says. According to the most recent census estimates, about 100,000 people in the county live below the federal poverty line. Children and youths make up 43 percent of the county's homeless population and 1,823 families with children used homeless services in the 2011 fiscal year, according to a report from the Contra Costa Inter-Jurisdictional Council on Homelessness.

Unlike other Bay Area shelters that house people in a communal space, at Mountain View families stay in seven private rooms and have access to locked storage cupboards. Residents share meals in the main room where a television and sofas sit in one corner and another holds a play area stocked with bright-colored toys. At the rear of the building, a former church, there's a play structure and room for kids to romp.

A case manager works with residents to identify the barriers to securing housing. During their stay at Mountain View, families have access to a range of services, including job assistance, tutoring, mental health counseling and nutrition education. The shelter also provides toiletries, diapers and bedding.

On average, families stay for about two months. Over the past five years, 93 percent of Mountain View residents have moved from the shelter into stable housing, O'Keefe said.

Teri Pedersen and her five daughters, who have been living at Mountain View for two months, are moving into a three-bedroom apartment at Shelter Inc.'s Pittsburg property. Pedersen said she's stayed at other shelters where she didn't feel safe because drug use and violence were commonplace.

"It's not just a place to lay our heads every night, it's life saving," said Pedersen, 37.

Lisa P. White covers Martinez and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.


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