‘Plan to End Homelessness’ in Santa Clara County unveiled
The entrance of the "Jurassic Park" homeless encampment in San Jose is pictured in this file photo. Photo by Loan-Anh Pham.

A consortium of agencies working to tackle one of Santa Clara County’s biggest concerns unveiled a long-term strategy Thursday with an epic goal: To end homelessness.

Called the 2020-2025 Plan to End Homelessness, its recommendations include securing 14,000 homes for the homeless, doubling shelter bed space and establishing a homeless prevention system that now serves more than 1,000 households a year. The recommendations build on what’s been done over the past five years.

The plan was put together by Santa Clara County’s Continuum of Care, which includes county and San Jose officials along with groups such as Destination: Home, People Assisting the Homeless (PATH) and business leaders.

Every night up to 10,000 people in Santa Clara County find themselves sleeping on the sidewalk or other unstable places, officials say, and that number continues to grow. For every homeless family or individual that makes it into housing in the county, two to three more experience it for the first time. If the trend continues, the group estimates 20,000 more could become homeless by 2025, the group predicts.

“This is a sober and ambitious plan — exactly what we need to tackle the growing crisis in homelessness we see across our community,” said Bruce Ives, CEO of the Bay Area homeless shelter group LifeMoves.

In addition to building more affordable homes, the plan calls for providing “targeted financial resources to prevent homelessness and eviction for severely rent-burdened residents living in existing affordable units.”

The report notes racial inequities are a factor in driving homelessness. According to Destination: Home, people of color are far more likely to become homeless in Santa Clara County. To address this issue, the plan increases “access to supportive housing programs for people of color by addressing racial bias in our system.”

The plan also calls for housing 20,000 people through the county’s supportive housing system by 2025, expanding the Homelessness Prevention System to serve 2,500 people and doubling the county’s temporary housing and shelter capacity.

Barriers to shelter that homeless advocates have long complained about also are addressed. These include allowing pets, personal storage, greater privacy, longer stays and more security. Shelters would also expand hours to remain open during the day and “invest in professional development and competitive pay to attract and retain a highly-qualified workforce of homeless service provider staff.”

Increasing the number of beds for substance abuse treatment, access to mental health services as well as a referral system for temporary housing and other services would also be established.

Bright spots noted by the group to fight against homelessness include the passage of San Jose’s Measure E earlier this year. The real estate transfer tax will generate millions annually for new affordable housing and homelessness prevention efforts.

Other developments include the building of three 100-bed emergency interim housing communities for families that will be made available during and after the pandemic and $15 million in aid to approximately 7,000 extremely low-income families in danger of becoming homeless.

Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Cindy Chavez said the plan “reinforces our need to build permanent housing for the lowest income levels — housing that otherwise won’t happen. And it points out the need to stop economically displaced families from becoming the newly homeless.”

Morgan Hill’s Housing Manager Rebecca Garcia said the impact of the plan could be tremendous “if every city in the county seizes the opportunity to use this as a guiding light” to create healthy neighborhoods for everyone.

The plan does have its critics, however. Sandy Perry, president of the Affordable Housing Network of Santa Clara County, sat in on some of the plan’s hearings and focus groups. While he praises the ongoing efforts of homeless advocates, he’s critical of local politicians who don’t demand that high-tech companies pay their fair share of taxes. If they did, he says the county wouldn’t have a homeless problem because there would be more than enough money to build the amount of housing that’s needed, not just what’s in the pipeline that will only provide up to 20% at best.

“It’s ridiculous that in the richest place on Earth we have this kind of homeless problem,” said Perry.

According to a Public Policy Institute of California report cited in the plan, families at the highest income levels in the Bay Area have more than 12 times the income of families at the bottom, a group that’s seen its income drop by 12% in the past five years in Santa Clara County.

Not only are low-wage earners making less, there are far fewer homes for them to rent. In 2018 there were only 34 homes available for every 100 “extremely low wage” earners in the San Jose area.

But building more affordable housing will not come cheap. According to the plan, it could cost several billion dollars.

“But we cannot accept a future in which thousands of our neighbors are forced to live outside,” the report says.

Contact Paul Kilduff at [email protected]

Editor’s Note: Jennifer Loving, executive director of Destination: Home, serves on San José Spotlight’s Board of Directors.

2020 Community Plan

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