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Help for homeless

Monday, November 29, 2004

Help for homeless
Shelter Network 'graduates' 80 percent of clients.

BURLINGAME -- Two days before Thanksgiving, Ysedra moved into a Menlo Park apartment with her 9-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter.

But the family had their Thanksgiving dinner back at the Shelter Network homeless residence where they had lived for the past three months, and Ysedra helped cook the group holiday meal for all the shelter's residents.

When you talk to Ysedra, you cannot help but be impressed by her articulateness, poise, intelligence, energy and optimism. Only a couple of years ago, she was a human resources administrator at Stanford University.

But this summer, she and her children suddenly found themselves joining San Mateo County's estimated 6,000 homeless.

"My ex and I split up after three years," Ysedra explained. "I was being a stay-at-home mom in 2004 because my daughter was still a toddler."

Left without a job or a car, Ysedra spent July with her kids in another south county nonprofit shelter before being referred to Shelter Network's Haven Family House.

In many ways, Ysedra is the perfect example of the kind of person Shelter Network is set up to help. Using the full spectrum of programs available at the network, within three months Ysedra was working at three part-time jobs and had saved enough money to acquire a vehicle and put down the deposit for an apartment.

She is working as a human resources manager at a substance-abuse clinic, as operations manager for a nonprofit high-tech startup company and as a caseworker for a homeless shelter.

"Shelter Network's child development center is just wonderful for my 2-year-old," Ysedra said. "I drop in sometimes during the day, and the teachers are either reading to them or helping them make crafts projects. They really pay attention to the kids."

Founded by a consortium of nonprofits in 1987 to tackle homelessness on the Peninsula, Shelter Network now operates facilities in Redwood City, San Mateo, Daly City and Menlo Park. It has nearly 500 volunteers and a $4.6 million annual budget contributed almost equally by private donors and government grants.

More than 80 percent of the families and individuals who complete Shelter Network's re-entry programs succeed at getting back into permanent housing.

"The homeless in San Mateo County are typically working, low-income families with two or more children averaging 5 years old," said Michele Jackson, Shelter Network's executive director. "They just ran into a streak of economic hardship. These people are not the chronically homeless, and they can be helped."

To help deserving Peninsula families like Ysedra and her children, Shelter Network provides emergency and transitional housing, food, health care referrals, childcare, life skills counseling and a mandatory savings program.

Shelter Network is a longtime annual beneficiary of The Examiner Holiday Fund in conjunction with the Peninsula Community Foundation. This year's contributions will be matched to a total of $10,000 by the David & Lucille Packard Foundation.

More than 80 percent of the network's budget goes directly into the programs helping Peninsula residents recover from being homeless.

Shelter Network's offices are at 1450 Chapin Ave., Burlingame, 94010. For more information or to volunteer, call (650) 685-5880.

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