The painful evidence of our current housing crisis is in full view in our neighborhoods, on city streets and along creeks as homeless camps continue to grow out of a desperation caused by the lack of affordable housing and temporary shelter.
At government meetings and community gatherings, we often hear, “Why isn’t somebody doing something about homelessness?”
Somebody is. In fact, a lot of people are and have been for a decade.
Since the $950 million housing bond was approved in 2016, 21 housing projects, including new and renovated units, are making their way to completion or have opened. Of the new construction projects, three have opened and two more are scheduled to open in 2020. By December 2022, the bond revenue will have provided 2,000 more apartments to help reach the final goal of 4,800.
Measure A is a medium- to long-term solution, but it has already made a difference in the lives of some of the 8,000 unhoused and unsheltered residents in the county. And I never miss an opportunity to thank voters for approving it. So, thank you.
But I also know that future housing is little comfort to people who need housing today. We need to focus more attention on transitional housing and temporary shelter while we continue to build permanent supportive housing.
At the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, I will propose a slate of initiatives that focus on short-term solutions for those living on the streets, starting with creating a Homeless Task Force to focus on emergency shelter and transitional housing, which was a recommendation from participants at the Community Summit on Homelessness that I convened last September. The Task Force would meet until September 2020 and report to the board in October.
My proposals ask that county staff and administrators consider other recommendations that emerged from Summit conversations, which are included in a report that is also on the Jan. 28 agenda. The Community Summit on Homelessness drew 250 people, including 60 who were unhoused, who spent a day in table-top exercises led by trained facilitators.
I’m also asking the county to study how we can leverage state budget investments as outlined in Governor Newsom’s recent Executive Order to address the state’s homeless crisis, and calling for a plan to increase shelter beds by 2,000 and to add a staff member to our Office of Supportive Housing dedicated to transitional housing.
We all know that the solution to our affordable housing crisis is to build more housing for those in the lowest income brackets. That is why Measure A is the most significant tool we have to generate funding for affordable housing, including supportive housing through which tenants receive services that will help them stabilize their lives.
But we didn’t think that, in the meantime, the growth in the homeless population would far exceed our ability to provide temporary housing or shelter. For every homeless individual who is housed, two more individuals become homeless. We can’t keep up with the pace. On the positive side, of those who do receive permanent supportive housing, 90 percent stay housed.
The challenge we face now is to provide our unhoused residents safe places where they can also receive the care they need. It may be tiny home villages, government-approved tent camps, more shelters or a significant increase in shelter beds, or all of the above. The Task Force will need a sharp focus on what we can do now to alleviate the misery suffered by thousands in our community.
I hope you will take the time to look over the Summit Report and the Action Plan proposals before Tuesday’s meeting and please let me know what you think. If you attended the Summit, thank you for your thoughtful ideas and your compassion.
Dave Cortese is a Santa Clara County supervisor first elected in 2008 to represent District 3, which spans Berryessa, Evergreen, Alviso, Milpitas, north Sunnyvale and the East Foothills.