Photo by Loan-Anh Pham/ San Jose Spotlight
Earlier this week, Santa Clara County’s Continuum of Care put together a plan to end homelessness in the county. This plan has been in the making since 2015, but because of the global pandemic, implementing this plan is more urgent than ever. COVID-19 has left many economically uncertain, jobless, and without child care, causing more residents to become homeless. This public health crisis has called for a shelter in place order and more extreme preventative health measures. However, these orders are harder to meet for the homeless community.
The leading factor causing homelessness is the “extreme lack of housing options that are affordable for low-income residents.” According to a Public Policy Institute of California report, families making the lowest income levels in the Bay Area have 12 times less the income of the families at the highest income level. In fact, the income of “low wage” families has dropped by 12% in Santa Clara County in the last 5 years. Yet, that’s only one of the problems of affordable housing facing that group. In 2018, there were only 34 houses available for every 100 low-income workers in San Jose, meaning that the lack of affordable housing and low income makes it common for low wage families to be on the brink of homelessness.
Although the ages of homeless residents can be very diverse, the racial group isn’t. Hispanics, Native Americans, and African Americans together make up 30% of the general population in Santa Clara County. However, they also make up 68% of the homeless population in the county. Clearly, “racial inequities are a factor in driving homelessness” and people of color are more likely to experience it. The County hopes to address the racial bias in the system and make supportive housing programs more accessible and available to people of color.
In these past few months, these numbers have been rapidly increasing and it is expected that they will continue to rise. Over 80% of homeless residents are unsheltered and are sleeping in unstable places. And for every individual or family that is housed in the county, two or three more end up homeless. By 2025, there will be 20,000 more people who will become homeless if this trend continues. It is crucial that the County acts upon this now so that we don’t have to live this future.
County officials and leaders plan to help resolve this issue by housing 20,000 people in the next five years, preventing more people from ending up on the streets, and improving the quality of life in shelters and encampments. The plan includes expanding their homeless prevention program so that they can serve 2,500 people per year and increasing the construction of homes for the homeless. As for shelters, they will be doubling the number of beds and allowing residents to “ bring pets and store personal items at shelters, live in sanctioned homeless camps with access to hygiene and support services, and receive better access to housing services and support.” In addition, they will also be providing more resources and outreach to those on the street and those in danger of it.
Funding for this plan will come from Measure A( $950 million affordable housing bond passed in 2016), the city of San Jose, state & federal government, Santa Clara County, and private donors.
Ending homelessness is a big step for the county and the Bay Area. During this time, it is of the utmost importance that we are protecting those that are most vulnerable. This plan will be a great example and foundation for plans to come in ending homelessness in other regions in the Bay Area. Now, we can better imagine a Bay Area with brighter futures and lives.
Photo taken by Jessica Christian/The Chronicle
A new program called Homekey, based on Governor Newsom’s project Roomkey which rents places for homeless people, will be giving money to unused motels and hotels in order to provide housing for the homeless. Many motel and hotel owners aren’t doing well due to the pandemic and the drop in tourism, so they are considering selling their properties instead of waiting to reopen. Since people are considering selling, “San Francisco homeless policy leaders have said since early summer they are hoping to buy two or more hotels for conversion, and some leading players in the city’s Homekey process say several properties are in play.”
The goal at Homekey is to find buildings that are not too expensive to redo with a fair price. However, since rents have declined but real estate prices haven’t, this makes it harder to find good places to renovate. Additionally, there is a follow-up cost to supervise the building, making it more expensive. Nevertheless, Mayor London Breed and many others involved with Homekey and providing homes for the homeless have a positive outlook on the progress that can be made, particularly within San Francisco.
In total, Homekey has $600 million in grant funds for taking “local public entities, including cities, counties, or other local public entities, including housing authorities or federally recognized tribal governments within California to purchase and rehabilitate housing, including hotels, motels, vacant apartment buildings, and other buildings and convert them into interim or permanent, long-term housing.”
Finding homes for the homeless is especially pressing during COVID-19 due to the possible exposure of homeless people, and $550 million of the $600 million in grant funds come from Coronavirus Aid Relief Funds. This issue has been emphasized and brought to light due to the pandemic, but hopefully it is also one that people will continue to focus on even after the pandemic. If you are interested in learning more, we encourage you to read this article or visit the website for Homekey.
Homelessness has long afflicted the American population, specifically in San Francisco, California - hotspot to some of the most widespread poverty in America. However, some groups have been immensely affected by unemployment and severe poverty during this pandemic. The LGBTQ community has long faced discrimination and increased hardships but the tangible effects of this bias has only been proven in recent studies. Estimates from the National HRC show that “LGBTQ youth comprise up to 40 percent of the total unaccompanied homeless youth population.” Unfortunately, they are not the only minority group facing increased homelessness rates - “other young adult populations experiencing disproportionate rates of homelessness include Black and African American youth, Hispanic non-white youth, unmarried parenting youth, youth with less than a high school diploma or GED certificate and youth reporting annual household income of less than $24,000.”
When minority groups are the foremost victims of poverty and homelessness, it creates a cycle of poverty and hardship for people of those ethnicities and socioeconomic statuses. Homelessness can have a lifelong effect on these groups’ mental and physical health. Those experiencing severe poverty are exposed to higher rates of sexual abuse, drug dependency, and social discrimination. When faced with situations as dire as homelessness, it is hard for this population to rise out of their circumstances especially with societal stigmas about hiring low-income, minority youth.
Fortunately, several projects and initiatives have been striving to remedy the scourge of homelessness facing LGBTQ minorities. On par with these motives, the Trevor Project works to de-stigmatize the LGBTQ community by contacting policymakers and funding programs that encourage inclusiveness. They ensure that foster care systems have a strong, non-discriminatory code of ethics that accommodates youth despite sexual orientation or racial identity. In addition to this, the Covenant House, one of the largest providers of care for youth experiencing homelessness in America, has a mission statement ensuring that all their houses are safe and welcoming for minority youth experiencing homelessness. Kevin Ryan, CEO of Covenant House International, stated “This is not complicated: we are called to love unconditionally and with absolute respect all young people facing homelessness.” Although it is a devastating truth, LGBTQ and minority youth disproportionately experience homelessness, and we should all work to support and de-stigmatize these groups to stop the cyclical abuse they face.
Photo taken by Melia Robinson/Business Insider.
“Nowhere in San Francisco is wealth disparity more prevalent than the Tenderloin.” With these words, Robinson of Business Insider reminds us of the acute class divide in the Bay Area- while some were fortunate enough to transition easily from in-person to technology based jobs during COVID-19 lockdowns, others did not have that opportunity. In fact, unemployment in California rose from rates of 3.9 in January to 16.4 in April and May. June has seen a slight dip with a rate of 14.9. While rates may steadily slow in coming months, marginalized populations in San Francisco will not see the same increase of job opportunities. In order to bridge this gap, the nonprofit Code Tenderloin hopes to help provide long term employment to the formerly incarcerated, homeless, and similarly disenfranchised communities.
Founded in 2015, the organization has a myriad of helpful services, all focused on training for job readiness. One facet is a curriculum that “covers technical skills, soft skills, interview prep, resume creation, 1-on-1 mentorship and off-sites led by some of the best tech companies in the Bay Area.” Another is the “enrollment in Public Defender's Clean Slate Program that reduces and expunges criminal records.” Code Tenderloin’s partnerships with local businesses, major tech companies, and others connects participants with long-term job opportunities. The nonprofit affirms that in order to work, a collective effort is required across several organizations; ones that provide housing, clothing, etc. Code Tenderloin is partnered with St. Anthony’s foundation, which contributes free clothing and a tech lab, Compass Family Services, which has family shelter and childcare services, Tech Credit Union, with financial literature and free checking, and Glide, which provides case management and family services.
As of 2018, “About half of the 300 people that Code Tenderloin has accepted into the program reported finding employment after graduation. Of those newly employed, 35% remained in the same job 12 months after graduating from Code Tenderloin.” In order to change the narrative, a coalition of ventures is necessary. Companies need to take a chance on disenfranchised applicants, and we as a society must recognize that change and rehabilitation are possible, despite past mistakes.
The new commonly voiced mantra “stay at home” in light of the ongoing pandemic has a very different meaning for the population of about 1.4 million Americans who currently use transitional housing or homeless shelters. While the amount of people in this group fluctuates due to unemployment rates at an all time high, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has proposed a community based approach dependent on local government leadership, law enforcement, healthcare service providers, etc. to handle the spread of coronavirus within shelters. The CDC maintains that it is imperative to keep existing housing open, with additional preventative and responsive measures in place; however, the real difficulty lies in the systematic approach taken when concerning COVID-19 testing.
Maxmen of Nature writes that tests are rare, so a significant portion of a shelter remains untested until after an outbreak has occurred. Shelters can only afford to test those with symptoms due to their limited resources, despite the reality that most people carrying the virus tend to be asymptomatic. This unfortunately ensures that outbreaks spread unnoticed, rendering these communal houses an epicenter of the virus. For example, “by the time a person from a shelter in San Francisco had been diagnosed with COVID-19 in April, more than 90 other residents and 10 people who worked there were already infected.”
The failure to protect infected individuals in a highly populated, close-quarters setting results in transmission rates increasing rapidly, with the entire nation falling further into more and more cases. Though certain cities have begun to provide accommodations to their homeless populations through hotel rooms, a majority still reside in tents or large housing arrangements. Maxmen corroborates that “without further interventions, more than 21,300 homeless people in the United States will need to be hospitalized for COVID-19.” It is clear that policymakers need to keep these communities in mind when taking action to support the nation as a whole.
While many of us are experiencing the restrictive quarantine and social distancing measures that this pandemic has caused, the virus’s effect on the homeless population has been much more dire. Specifically in San Francisco, center to the largest homeless population in the country, COVID-19 has caused mass displacement and inconvenience for this community.
San Francisco has long been home to some of the most low-income and underprivileged groups in America. However, the recent pandemic has forced the city to address the lack of sanitation, resources, and living spaces for these groups. In the city’s efforts to adjust to recent social distancing and sanitation orders, they have begun opening hotel rooms to homeless people and implementing quarantine measures in select shelters. While these steps have been effective, it has also barred many homeless individuals from living in quarantining shelters and displaced people that aren’t “high risk.”
Roger Moussa, who was recently kicked out of the shelter he was living in, said of the situation, “I feel completely helpless. I have nowhere to go, and every other night I get robbed.” Several citizens have also voiced their concern for the homeless during this time, and how this improper treatment of homeless citizens ends up generating fear in other citizens: “We are only as safe and as protected as our most vulnerable residents.”
The recent outbreak has also affected homeless youth, who depend on schools for not only education, but also for food, hygiene, and health care. The US Interagency Council on Homelessness has made a statement offering further educational support for afflicted youth. They suggest that schools and communities coordinate an effort to provide devices to any who may not have the facilities to learn remotely. However, this response is inadequate and does not address the possibility of a lack of school resources or funding to equip children with such devices.
The Bridging Tech Charitable Fund’s mission is to provide sustainable learning devices for children in these situations. Providing them with devices may prevent cyclical poverty and the lack of education due to systemic causes that is common in these areas. It enables children to learn, regardless of their living situation or socioeconomic status, and it creates a world where education is accessible to all.