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State Push To Get Homeless Into Trailers Yields Mixed Results

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- Hundreds of homeless seniors are off the streets of the Bay Area and into trailers this summer. The state announced back in January that it would donate the trailers, that are usually on standby for emergencies, to help house the homeless.

The trailers have made a big difference for Kymberli and Lenton Wilson. When we first caught up with the couple they were living in a tent on 77th street and had lost hope. A promise from a homeless agency to place them in a mobile home had just fizzled out.

Then, a few months ago, a different social worker came by. "They came and asked us if we wanted to come over here," said Kymberli Wilson. The couple and their dog Mokka were among the first to move into Operation Homebase, Oakland's new trailer park for homeless seniors. They now live in one of 67 brand new trailers donated by the state. "It has your kitchen, your bathroom and a little sitting room and a bathroom," said Lenton Wilson. "Electricity, running water. We don't have to go to the fire hydrant and get water in our water jugs," said Kymberli Wilson.

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The trailers are part of a new state push to house the homeless. Governor Newsom has dispatched 1,300 of them to counties across California. Here in the Bay Area, San Francisco received a fleet of them as well. "We really jumped on it," said Abigail Stewart Kahn, interim director of the city's Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing.

"It has been human services agency, department management, the Department of Public health, all of us working together to kind of pull off this wild experiment, which is helping to keep approximately 120 highly vulnerable folks from the Bayview who were experiencing homelessness safe during COVID," said Stewart Kahn.

She says thanks to the Port of San Francisco that provided the land, setting up space to put the trailers and hooking up utilities was smooth sailing. "We were able to get them up and running in a matter of weeks," said Stewart Kahn.

But in San Jose, it was a different story. "This is an experiment that didn't work out," said" City Councilmember Johnny Khamis. San Jose was offered 90 trailers from the state, said Khamis. But the only place to put them ended up being the parking lot of the Happy Hollow Zoo.

"It took a month just to get that on the calendar," said Khamis. "I didn't think it was a fantastic idea because if the zoo opens we will need that parking. But we had to do something.

In addition, many of the trailers were used as emergency housing during last year's fires and were in bad shape. San Jose spent more than $1 million on repairs and connecting water, electricity and sewage. But three weeks after opening, the project was scrapped. Dozens of homeless occupants were transferred to hotels. Now the trailers sit empty.

Those aren't the only ones. In Oakland, 16 more donated trailers have been gathering dust in a city lot, unused since January.

"We just thought it would be a wonderful opportunity for us to be able to serve more young people," said Bill Bedrossian, CEO of Covenant House.

Bedrossian says Oakland at first promised he could have them to house the homeless youth he serves through his non-profit for homeless youth. "We've got 90 beds in the East Bay and our waiting list is still over 100," said Bedrossian.

But negotiations on where to put them dragged for months. The most recent plan to stage them on a Caltrans owned lot in West Oakland is on indefinite hold. But Bedrosian is not losing hope.

"You know there's a lot of bureaucracy, different agencies trying to work together and their legal departments," said Bedrossian. "But rest assured they are going to be used. They are going to be able to house 30 young people and give them an opportunity to pursue their dreams."

For Kymberli and Lenton Wilson, trailer living - as comfortable as it is for now - is just a temporary stepping stone to what they really want. "We want a front door and a back door with a key. We can pay the rent. We want to pay rent," said Kymberli Wilson.

They left their elaborate tent on 77th Street, the envy of their homeless neighbors, to one of their friends. Now they hope to leave their trailer to the next person in need. "Let us start getting out of here so more people can get in. Because there's a lot of people out here, and not a whole lot of trailers," said Lenton Wilson.

Last we heard, the San Jose trailers are now headed to Imperial County. As for the trailers destined for Covenant House, we just found out the Federal Highway Administration apparently doesn't want highway parcels used for homeless programs anymore. So they are holding up the lease. We'll keep you posted on that.

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