New panel begins to tackle emergency needs of homeless in Santa Clara County
Members of Santa Clara County's Unhoused Task Force meet on Zoom Sept. 9, 2020.

    Even as long-term solutions for homelessness in Santa Clara County gain momentum and support, emergency measures are lacking and likely will get worse.

    That was the grim reality presented to the county’s Unhoused Task Force, which held its initial meeting Sept. 9. Proposed by Supervisor Dave Cortese earlier this year, the group aims to address the immediate needs of the thousands of individuals and families living on the streets, while also trying to improve their quality of life.

    As of the most recent count in January 2019, 9,706 homeless were identified in Santa Clara County, a 31% increase from 2017.

    In a more comprehensive study done by the county using school district data, it appears 2,739 families were homeless at some point in Santa Clara County during the 2018-19 school year.

    “Between 2015 to 2019 we made an amazing amount of progress to end homelessness,” said Hilary Barroga, program manager for the county’s Office of Supportive Housing. “And yet homelessness continues to grow. For every family we are able to get housed, two or three more are experiencing homelessness for the first time.”

    Families find a way to remain under the radar, said Barroga. More than half of homeless women live with two or more children and many women living unhoused are victims of partner violence. Less than 100 emergency shelter beds in the county are dedicated to victims of domestic violence.

    There are many long-term housing projects in the works in Santa Clara County. The majority are funded by the 2016 Measure A affordable housing bond, which will create 2,416 apartments, 27 developments and invest $25 million in a first-time homebuyer program. Some housing projects funded by Measure A are not expected to be completed until 2025.

    “While the development of (long-term) housing is essential, it also takes a while,” Barroga said. “That’s why we need your help for emergency and short-term solutions.”

    And the need is urgent. The county’s emergency shelter beds include 800 hotel units that were made available due to COVID-19 using CARES Act funding, but money and availability for these units is time-limited, making the group’s work all the more urgent.

    Goals for the group include doubling the number of year-round temporary beds, increasing street outreach, hygiene services, transportation access, increasing mental health and substance abuse services and gaining the support of community-based organizations across the county.

    As a first step, the group received a breakdown of available housing in the county, demographics of unhoused populations and the various programs already in place.

    “Part of the reason we’re giving you so much background is there is a large chunk of work that we could have been tasked with,” Supervisor Cindy Chavez said. “(But) we’re tasked with one very specific issue and that’s how we’re addressing urgent needs relative to housing.”

    The task force, chaired by Chavez and Supervisor Susan Ellenberg, is composed of leaders from throughout the county, with its membership totaling 30 individuals including mayors, councilmembers and members of the public, including those who have been homeless.

    At the next meeting Sept. 24, the task force plans to create and vote on a work plan. The task force meets again Sept. 26 and Sept. 30.

    Contact Madelyn Reese at [email protected] or follow her @MadelynGReese.

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