Marin County recently provided an update on the progress of its supported living site in Larkspur, a complex for unsheltered people that created some controversy last year from residents who opposed it.

The site, located in an old skilled nursing facility at 1251 S. Eliseo Dr., was first put forth by the county in 2021 as a way to house unsheltered residents through the state’s Homekey program.

Homekey ascribes to the “housing first” philosophy that people living with chronic homelessness and mental illness should have roofs over their heads to better stabilize their lives so that they can tackle their other issues.

The site will house between 43 and 50 people who have experienced chronic homelessness.

According to Gary Naja-Riese, director of homelessness and whole person care for Marin County, the complex will have 24/7 staff presence, including on-site property management. There will also be on-site case management and clinical services, primarily during regular business hours.

A Community Safety Services Team will serve as a community liaison to prevent and de-escalate any issues. Case management will consist of health, behavioral health, counseling, benefits advocacy, financial literacy, and food. The staff-to-client ratio will be 1:17.

Looking to summer opening

In its May 2 update, the county said that “construction on the project is moving forward” and that it is anticipated to be completed by August. Resident move-ins will begin shortly thereafter, with the expectation that the building will be fully occupied by the end of November.

To qualify for the housing, the county said it is taking into consideration a person’s age, how long they have been homeless, how often they have been hospitalized and their ability to meet their own daily needs.

“Outreach providers will engage with future residents prior to placement to build trust and a therapeutic relationship, then will transition them to the assistance provided by case managers within the supportive housing program,” said the county.

In February 2021, the Marin County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a grant award from Homekey in the amount of $15,497,200 to acquire and develop the Eliseo site. Over 100 residents in the area immediately expressed opposition to the idea.

“Outreach providers will engage with future residents prior to placement to build trust and a therapeutic relationship, then will transition them to the assistance provided by case managers within the supportive housing program.”

Marin County statement regarding Larkspur supported living site

A petition was even created, titled “Keep Our Children Safe by Stopping the Homeless Facility Next to Playground and Schools,” which gathered 2,808 signatures; more than 4,300 people have signed the petition as of Monday.

Last March, a group called the South Eliseo Neighborhood Alliance filed a mandate to halt the project, alleging that the county erred when it exempted the address from the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, from its decision to create the housing. The county community development agency had declared the Eliseo site exempt from CEQA in October 2021.

The controversy went all the way to California Attorney General Rob Bonta, who last October filed an amicus brief in defense of the project, calling out the Neighborhood Alliance explicitly and explaining how the project is legal under state law.

“To date, the Homekey Program has provided housing for more than 8,000 Californians, and much of the success of the program comes from the speed at which these projects are to be approved,” said Bonta. “That is no accident. The Legislature expressly exempted Homekey Program-funded developments from CEQA.”

Heightened security planned

A Community Advisory Group organized by the county was formed to coordinate between various agencies to “promote public safety” throughout the community in response to the backlash. As a result of those discussions, the county said that the California Highway Patrol, the Sheriff’s Office, and Marin County Parks will be increasing their presence in the area of the Eliseo property for the first three months of the building’s opening.

A Community Safety Services position is also being developed to “create and maintain a healthy and safe environment on-site at 1251 Eliseo,” the county said.

The site will be run by Episcopal Community Services (ECS), which set up an office in San Rafael. Kristin Ullom, ECS’s associate director of housing services, will be overseeing operations at the Eliseo site. She will be responsible for supervising staff and services and coordinating with government and community partners, the county said.

Katy St. Clair, Bay City News

Katy St. Clair got her start in journalism by working in the classifieds department at the East Bay Express during the height of alt weeklies, then sweet talked her way into becoming staff writer, submissions editor, and music editor. She has been a columnist in the East Bay Express, SF Weekly, and the San Francisco Examiner. Starting in 2015, she begrudgingly scaled the inverted pyramid at dailies such as the Vallejo Times-Herald, The Vacaville Reporter, and the Daily Republic. She has her own independent news site and blog that covers the delightfully dysfunctional town of Vallejo, California, where she also collaborates with the investigative team at Open Vallejo. A passionate advocate for people with developmental disabilities, she serves on both the Board of the Arc of Solano and the Arc of California. She lives in Vallejo.