Board to consider ordinance promoting shelter, prohibiting illegal encampments
January 18, 2024
  • Redwood City — The Board of Supervisors, on Tuesday, Jan. 23, will consider a new approach to encourage individuals experiencing homelessness to accept offers of shelter and support.

    The proposed ordinance regulating encampments on public property in unincorporated San Mateo County is intended to help the County achieve its goal of making homelessness brief and rare.

    The effort — formally known as the “Hopeful Horizons: Empowering Lives Initiative”— is aimed at mitigating fire risks, unsanitary conditions and public safety and health hazards for the benefit of both those living in an unregulated encampment and the surrounding community, with a goal of moving individuals into shelter.

    Under the proposed ordinance, an encampment is defined as a tent, makeshift structure or collection of belongings in a place not meant for habitation and where the person or people responsible for them plan to stay in that location with no definite plans to move.

    If the ordinance is adopted, a person contacted for illegally occupying an encampment on public property anywhere in the unincorporated area of the county can be charged with a misdemeanor after receiving at least two written warnings and two offers of shelter that are declined. Anyone charged with a misdemeanor violation under the ordinance would automatically qualify for participation in appropriate diversion programs offered by the San Mateo County Superior Court, therefore avoiding jail time. 

    Under the ordinance, an encampment cannot be dismantled unless the County has shelter available for each person living there. The County monitors bed availability daily and will hold beds for 72 hours for individuals once the decision to clear an encampment is made.

    “This ordinance is not meant to criminalize homelessness or penalize those who believe there are no other options,” said Board President Warren Slocum who is introducing the proposal with Supervisor Dave Pine.

     “Rather, our intent is to encourage our neighbors experiencing homelessness to accept our offers of shelter and support. We also want to be mindful of the public hazards that illegal encampments on sidewalks and elsewhere can create. The goal is to create better opportunities all around.”

    Encampments are identified through the County’s ongoing engagement with our unsheltered residents, including Homeless Outreach Teams and street medicine teams. The County is also notified through resident or business reports, health and safety concerns or if there has been an ongoing effort to engage those living in encampments.

    The Board of Supervisors has consistently identified ending homelessness as a top priority and the County has taken several steps in that direction, including securing five hotels that have been converted into permanent and interim housing, building a state-of-the-art Navigation Center to serve individuals and couples,  and committing funds to programs and providers that help transition homeless individuals and families into more stable shelter and that build affordable housing units.

    Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the County has added 146 permanent supportive housing units and 409 individual units.

    ‘The County has worked hard to implement the goal of functional zero homelessness, whereby individuals experiencing homelessness have access to appropriate shelter opportunities,” Pine said. “This proposal helps incentivize individuals to take advantage of these opportunities in a compassionate way, while also regulating critical operational details.”

     According to the 2022 federally required One Day Homeless Count, there were 1,808 individuals experiencing homelessness throughout the entire County, including 1.092 staying on streets, in cars and RVs or tents in encampments. In fact, 32 percent of that group were on streets or in tents.  

    The Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that in 2023, there were 1,859 individuals experiencing homelessness in the County.

    The next One-Day Homeless Count is Thursday, Jan. 25.

    The Board of Supervisors will meet at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024. The full agenda and link to the Zoom meeting is available at

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