Stats Shot: Homelessness in the Heart of Silicon Valley

A homeless person sleeping in San Jose, California.

A homeless person sleeping in San Jose, California. bluesby / Flickr via CC BY 2.0

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

Santa Clara County’s 2015 homeless census and survey show progress but “we still have a large unmet need,” according to the Board of Supervisors president.

This is a first in semi-regular series of posts looking at the statistics that shape state, county and municipal governments and the communities they serve across the United States.

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Driving along the web of suburban freeways that crisscross Silicon Valley, it’s sometimes hard to see the problem of homelessness. Stopped at a traffic light on an off-ramp, you might catch a glimpse of an encampment partially hidden in the dry vegetation.

In downtown San Jose, you might see homeless locals in St. James Park or wandering around the sidewalks of the central business district.

In Santa Clara County, which includes the city of San Jose and its Silicon Valley neighbors like Campbell, Cupertino, Mountain View and Sunnyvale, there are more than 6,500 homeless people across the county’s 15 cities and unincorporated areas—6,556 people to be exact, according to the county’s recently released homeless census and survey of those who are unsheltered and those in emergency or transitional housing.

The 2015 “Point-in-Time” headcount, conducted in January, showed a 14 percent decrease over numbers from 2013, according to the county. It’s the lowest homeless count in the past 10 years.

“The good news is that the overall numbers are headed in the right direction,” Dave Cortese, the president of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, said in a statement. “The County and its partners have made addressing chronic homelessness a top priority, and while we still have a large unmet need, those efforts are beginning to pay off.” 

Source: Santa Clara County, California

Some key findings from the census and survey:

GENDER: The majority of survey respondents are male (63%), 36% female and 1% transgender.

ETHNICITY/RACE: 39% Hispanic/Latino, 32% White, 16% Black or African American, 8% multi-racial, 3% American Indian or Alaskan Native, and 3% Asian

LGBTQ: 10% identified as Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer and Questioning (LGBTQ), a higher percentage of youth under age 25 identified as LGBTQ (16%)

LENGTH OF TIME BEING HOMELESS: 63% reported to be homeless for a year or more (an increase from 56% in 2013)

UNEMPLOYED: 81% were unemployed (compared to 74% in 2013)

HEALTH CONDITIONS: 65% of respondents reported one or more health conditions, including chronic physical illness, chronic substance abuse, and severe mental health conditions. 39% reported a psychiatric or emotional condition, 38% reported drug or alcohol abuse, 30% reported a physical disability, 25% reported having Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and 12% reported a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: 27% of respondents reported experiencing domestic violence in their lifetime, including 44% of female respondents. Among respondents who reported any experience of domestic violence, 17% reported it was the primary cause of their homelessness.

INCARCERATION: 30% of respondents had spent at least one night in jail or prison in the 12 months prior to the survey.

Looking at the 2015 headcount, Santa Clara County has an immediate need for 4,000 housing units to move unsheltered individuals and families off the streets.

And that’s a big challenge in a county experiencing a major housing squeeze.

According to the county:

This past May, the Housing Authority of the County of Santa Clara announced that it will begin the process of releasing up to 1,000 additional federal Section 8 project-based rental housing vouchers to selected housing developers and property owners through a competitive request for proposals process. Because despite having these vouchers, low income individuals and families still have difficulty finding landlords willing to accept them.

“About 600 of our families with housing vouchers in hand are searching for units to rent, but the low vacancy rates and high rents are keeping them locked out of the market,” said Alex Sanchez, Executive Director of HACSC. “While we know the availability of up to 1,000 project-based vouchers will not instantly produce more affordable homes, the development of new housing that stays affordable over time is clearly the best solution to our valley’s housing crisis.”

Read more about the 2015 homeless count and survey from Santa Clara County government.  

(Top image by bluesby / Flickr via CC BY-2.0

Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive’s Route Fifty.

NEXT STORY: California’s Vaccine Debate Won’t Be Over Anytime Soon

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