Residents in the liberal Bay Area town of Millbrae are trying to block a proposal to transform a hotel located near a school into housing for the homeless.
The tiny liberal town located 15 miles south of San Francisco — where the average home price is $1.9 million — is slated to approve the Project Homekey plan to turn a La Quinta hotel into a 99-unit apartment complex for unhoused people.
But hundreds of angry residents opposed to the project packed a community room on Friday to voice their concerns.
“It’s very close to children,” Millbrae resident Ho Yeung told NBC Bay Area. “It’s a block from three schools. So we don’t want to see that.”
Like many towns in California, homelessness has become an increasing problem in San Mateo County, where Millbrae is located.
During the latest “point in time” count conducted in February, there were a total of 1,092 homeless people in the county. That was a 20% increase compared to 2019, according to the San Mateo Daily Journal.
Patricia Lam attended the meeting holding a sign that said, “Keep our children and seniors safe.”
“We’re concerned about this project,” she told NBC Bay Area. “The reason why is because it’s right in the heart of Millbrae.”
The meeting quickly devolved into a shouting match, with angry residents booing and shouting down county officials.
San Mateo County Executive Mike Callagy asked residents to give the project a chance.
“They’re worried about crime, they’re worried about assaults, they’re worried about drugs and mental health impacting the neighborhoods,” Callagy said. “That has just not been our experience.”
The $33 million project will be operated by the non-profit organization Episcopal Community Services if it is approved.
Beth Stokes, a spokesperson with the non-profit, said there will be staff on hand 24/7 to provide the hotel residents case management support.
San Mateo County used state funds to purchase five hotels with a combined 315 beds, many of which have already been filled, according to the San Mateo Daily Journal.
The city also launched another program that connected 119 homeless people who were squatting at Millbrae’s BART station. About 95% of Millbrae’s homeless population congregated at the city’s BART station, which is the main mode of transportation for many residents who work and shop in San Francisco.
However, only 31 of the homeless agreed to receive case management services within the first six months and one person was placed in permanent housing, city officials said.
Frustrated Millbrae residents said they are already disproportionately paying for the Bay Area’s homeless problems compared to wealthier neighboring cities.
Paul Larson, who owns the funeral home located across from the La Quinta hotel, told CBS News Bay Area losing the La Quinta as a functioning hotel would hurt Millbrae even further.
Visitors who stay at the hotel pay an occupancy tax that contributes about $600,000 per year to the city’s coffers, he said.
“Having a way for the homeless or the people who need help to get out of that situation is good, but at the same time, you have to look at the surrounding community. What are their needs,” Larson said. “Losing a hotel in Millbrae is like cutting off a finger.”
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