Sandoval: Homeless count data points to some progress, lots of opportunity  
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo joined PATH staff and volunteers in the early morning of Feb. 23, 2022, for the annual Point-In-Time Count. Photo courtesy of PATH.

    When Santa Clara County last month released the preliminary results of the 2022 Point-in-Time Count, we learned that at least 10,028 people are experiencing homelessness in the county. While it appears and feels like homelessness has drastically increased, the data reveals only a slight overall increase in homelessness—3% in the county and an 11% increase in the city of San Jose. It’s important to remember that homelessness can look like many things, but for the population that is unsheltered, meaning people that are living outdoors, there was a slight decrease—3% in the county and a 2% decrease in San Jose.

    Each number tallied in this report represents a real person: someone with their own journey and their own story.

    People like “Robert” (a pseudonym for privacy reasons). After his relationship ended and he was kicked out of their apartment, Robert was out of options. But he had a car, so he began sleeping in it while figuring out what to do next. Without a permanent address, a stable place to clean up and wash his clothes, it was hard to get a job or any gainful employment. His learning disability also presented new challenges under these living conditions.

    He was tired from week after week of poor sleep; the sleep he could get was often disrupted by unknown threats on the other side of his car door. He grew disconnected from the people who mattered most to him. Robert had no place to invite his 10-year-old son to visit, and he didn’t want his homelessness to shape his son’s memories of him. Before he knew it, two years had passed and there was no sign that this cycle could be broken.

    When Robert met PATH outreach staff, they began to pull together a plan to get him back into a home. Our case managers worked with him to secure documents, come up with a game plan, and most importantly, provided him with support the entire way. PATH’s employment teams supported his application to a reputable employer. Fortunately, he was able to secure a job where he now earns a living wage.

    PATH housing specialists identified an affordable housing option for him and provided funds to overcome the initial financial hurdle of securing the apartment (application fees, deposit, rent down payments). A month after Robert first connected with PATH, he was in his own apartment, reveling in the changes his life had undergone in a matter of weeks. In his new home, Robert is safe, he has privacy, and a space to cook a meal and spend time with his son.

    Despite a pandemic, exponentially rising housing costs and stagnant wages, the solutions we are investing in are working. We know that housing services are effective in ending homelessness. While this is just one story, you could hear thousands more from the multitude of compassionate housing providers working toward this goal across the county.

    Locally, we have helped 6,890 people exit homelessness since 2020. That is 6,890 people that will no longer sleep in motel rooms, cars, couches, encampments and the streets. They now have a safe place to recover and rebuild their lives.

    While we are successful in getting people out of the cycle of homelessness, during the same amount of time, we’ve seen 7,400 people enter homelessness for the first time. This speaks to the incredibly vulnerable nature of so many of our neighbors. With the current housing market, a typical renter in search of a two-bedroom apartment needs to earn $54 an hour ($111,680 annually) to ensure affordability. If we don’t address systemic issues that cause homelessness, we can’t end homelessness.

    So, what can we do to prevent vulnerable people and families from ever falling into homelessness in the first place?

    For decades, wages have not kept up with the soaring cost of rent in the state, making affordable housing out of reach for a very large percentage of Californians. State and local governments just started spending money at even close to the scale of the crisis.

    In Santa Clara County, we look towards our commitments already made in the Community Plan to End Homelessness. From the investments made in Measure A, the affordable housing bond, we know eleven developments—or 1,280 affordable and supportive homes—are currently under development in Santa Clara County. This includes PATH Villas on 4th Street—a permanent supportive housing community that will end homelessness for the 93 older adults who will move in late this year.

    If we focus on building more housing, increasing economic opportunities, and addressing racial disparities, we can work toward a future where the Point-in-Time Count data gives us pride rather than tempered hope.

    San José Spotlight columnist Laura Sandoval is a regional director at PATH San Jose, a homeless services and housing development agency. She is also a licensed clinical social worker with over a decade of experience. Her columns appear every fourth Monday of the month. Contact Laura at [email protected]

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