Amid a housing shortage and skyrocketing rents in Silicon Valley, homelessness continues to be a growing and seemingly intractable problem. However, for homeless veterans in Santa Clara County, this Veterans Day marks some major successes.
According to newly-released data from nonprofit Destination: Home, 1,602 homeless veterans have been housed since the launch of the “All the Way Home” campaign, spearheaded in 2015 by San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese.
In the last 12 months, leaders with the organization say the rate of homeless veterans getting housed has exceeded the number of new homeless veterans who are seeking shelter — an average rate of 31 veterans being housed versus 21 looking for housing in the county each month.
“We’ve got a number of different partners that have been bringing in resources,” said David Low, a spokesman for Destination: Home. “I think the collective effort is one of the main reasons why we are seeing positive signs of success.”
Low credits many factors for the campaign’s ongoing success, such as the Veteran Affairs Supportive Housing Program. The program is run by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and provides housing vouchers and case managers to veterans who are seeking housing.
Since 2015, HUD has provided an additional 400 vouchers in Santa Clara County, organizers say, due in part to the local program’s success.
Veterans have also benefited from the Supportive Services for Veteran Families through the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, which operates programs through local nonprofits such as HomeFirst.
“The SSVF program outreached to me and got me connected to services,” said Michael Bandanza, a formerly homeless veteran who is now housed, in a statement. “The results with housing and V.A. benefits were quick and everybody was very thorough. I was even able to get a new electric wheelchair.”
The organization also provides rapid re-housing services for veterans who may not meet the requirements of SSVF.
“We’re doing our best (work with a) wealth of support and initiative,” said Kelly Sumner, veterans services director for HomeFirst, which is a Milpitas-based partner in the campaign. “We’re able to do more and more every year.”
The campaign to house Silicon Valley’s homeless veterans also includes numerous landlord incentive programs to encourage housing providers to help house people who served their country. Since 2015, 826 landlords have agreed to rent to homeless veterans and are granted bonuses, such as gratitude payments of up to $1,500 and special protections, including coverage for any damages.
“If the landlord is willing to take this chance but they’re concerned about the upkeep of the unit, there’s coverage for that,” Sumner said.
Cortese says the idea for the All the Way Home campaign was inspired by a desire to make a difference when faced with an otherwise overwhelming need.
“It was this idea that if we’re going to start attacking the overall homeless problem, we ought to take it one slice at a time,” Cortese told San José Spotlight. “It was overwhelming for people to take on 7,400 homeless people all at once” compared to the roughly 700 people who were veterans.
Today, the total number of homeless individuals in Santa Clara County hovers closer to 10,000, according to this year’s county’s bi-annual homeless count, a startling 31 percent increase from two years ago. Of that, 653 people are veterans.
In San Jose, there are now 6,172 homeless residents, a spike of 42 percent.
Cortese credits some creative thinking in helping to house homeless veterans, such as targeting empty nesters who might have spare bedrooms they’d be willing to rent out. “I think we’ve learned that you can’t just take a business-as-usual approach with the homeless,” Cortese said. “You really need to look at the community and determine what assets you have.”
In the first year of the campaign, Cortese says he personally rented a room to a homeless veteran and said he had been a great tenant.
Although the campaign was expected to end in 2020, organizers say they want to keep it going until they’ve housed the entire homeless veteran population. And now that they’ve had some success with unhoused veterans, they hope to expand their efforts to other segments of the homeless population.
“We’re optimistic about the progress we’re making,” said Low. “We’re committed to continuing this work.”
Contact Carina Woudenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @carinaew on Twitter.
Editor’s Note: Jennifer Loving, executive director of Destination: Home, serves on San José Spotlight’s Board of Directors.