Housing program for South Bay veterans marks milestone
Destination: Home said this year it housed more veterans than those who became homeless. Photo courtesy of Destination: Home.

    During the past five years, Destination: Home and its partners have housed 1,940 homeless veterans, making strides towards eliminating veteran homelessness in Santa Clara County.

    By partnering with San Jose, Santa Clara County and nonprofit organizations, Destination: Home said it reached a milestone this year: for the first time, it housed more veterans — 341 — than those becoming homeless — 259.

    But there’s still much work to do. According to the 2019 homeless count, the most recent available, 653 veterans are still homeless in Santa Clara County. Of those, 68% are unhoused.

    The count also found homelessness is spiking in the county. The county’s homeless population in 2019 jumped to 9,706 people countywide, up 31% from 7,394 individuals two years prior. In San Jose, the overall homeless count was 6,172, an increase of 1,822 over 2017.

    Still, Jeff Scott, a spokesperson for San Jose’s housing department, said the city is encouraged to see progress.

    “It’s great to see we’re moving the needle and making a difference in people’s lives,” Scott said. “It’s a great real-world success story.”

    The effort is part of the All the Way Home campaign, which was launched on Veterans Day in 2015 by San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese to tackle veteran homelessness in Santa Clara County.

    In 2016, the San Jose City Council set aside $4 million to get the program up and running, Scott said. The investment was used for rental subsidies in the form of grants and forgivable loans for landlords who agreed to rent properties to homeless veterans.

    “Some of the landlords we worked with are actually veterans themselves,” Scott said, “so they see it as a way to give back and help fellow veterans, as well as a way to fill their units.”

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    Partnering with landlords was key to the program’s success. During the past five years, 904 landlords have participated in All the Way Home, some repeatedly.

    Veteran Michael Eckhart said he is grateful to have a roof over his head, a shower and food in his refrigerator. Photo courtesy of Michael Eckhart.

    Michael Eckhart, 56, and his wife, Jackie Germain, 55, had been homeless for more than 10 years after losing their jobs. Eckhart, who served in the U.S. Navy, said he never expected to be homeless.

    Before being recommended by the San Jose Police Department for permanent housing, Eckhart and Germain lived on $240 a month from her retirement, visiting food pantries and panhandling to get by.

    Eckhart said he’s grateful for having a roof over his head and being able to shower and eat food from his refrigerator rather than a food pantry. Not having a permanent address made it hard for them to find work, he said.

    “When doors shut in your face every day, you give up,” said Eckhart, who writes a column about homelessness for this news organization. “Being housed has put a little bit of faith back into me.”

    Chad Bojorquez, chief program officer of Destination: Home, said personal well-being and physical and mental health are related to the safety and security of having a home.

    “It’s the most critical thing,” Bojorquez said. “From there, you can get a job and be successful. You can have your medical and behavioral health needs addressed and have friends and family and hobbies.”

    Destination: Home and its partners also provide veterans with services such as health assistance, reconnecting them with family and procuring military records, birth certificates and driver’s licenses. They also fund career training, drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs, vehicle repairs and childcare.

    Homelessness, in addition to suffering, has monetary costs. When people are stably housed, it reduces the need for ambulatory, emergency room and criminal justice system services, Scott said.

    In 2015, Destination: Home and Santa Clara County commissioned an Economic Roundtable study “The Cost of Homelessness in Silicon Valley.” The study found 104,206 individuals suffered from homelessness at the time.

    According to the study, from 2007 to 2012, Santa Clara County spent $520 million a year providing services for homeless residents. Health care costs accounted for 53 percent, social services accounted for 13 percent and justice system agencies for 34 percent.

    A persistently homeless individual costs the county about $13,661 a year, the study found, and the savings of prioritizing housing for 2,800 persistently homeless people with the highest costs would offset the cost of housing.

    Following the study, Destination: Home recommended the city and county approach homelessness in population segments. In 2015, as 700 of the existing 7,400 homeless were veterans, it seemed like a good place to start, Cortese said.

    “This was worthwhile and should be continued,” Cortese said. “We need to keep at it and finish the job. As there will always be veterans coming home, we always need to have a program like this in place.”

    Bojorquez said the program was helped by receiving political will and community-wide support.

    “Our community has done a great job taking accountability and putting together the pieces to support our unhoused community, particularly veterans,” Bojorquez said. “I’m grateful our community has prioritized housing all veterans in Santa Clara County.”

    In addition to connecting homeless veterans with permanent housing, the program partners also placed 114 homeless veterans in motel rooms during COVID-19.

    “It’s important for people to recognize homelessness is something we can overcome,” Scott said. “With some commitment, partnership and focused effort, we can make a big difference in our community and in the lives we’re helping.”

    Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected].

    Editor’s Note: Jennifer Loving, Chief Executive Officer of Destination: Home, serves on San José Spotlight’s Board of Directors.

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