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.