Santa Clara County lags on homeless count
Homeless resident George Villanueva is pictured at Columbus Park in San Jose. File photo.

    Nearly nine months after volunteers finished surveying the local unhoused population, Santa Clara County is blaming a technical issue for delaying its release of a comprehensive survey of homeless residents.

    Santa Clara County conducted a biennial tally known as the “point in time” count in February to fulfill a federal requirement to receive funding. Officials published the early results in May, showing more than 10,000 people are homeless in the area. The county has remained silent on a follow-up survey done by volunteers and homeless residents.

    The survey collects demographic information such as age, race and gender, and asks whether a person is living in a vehicle, why they fell into homelessness and what type of services they have received. This is crucial to understanding the local homelessness crisis. Even though the tally is often an undercount, demographic information provides a glimpse into the reality on the streets and helps local officials better identify the needs of unhoused people.

    San José Spotlight asked Santa Clara County officials and a representative of Applied Survey Research, the company leading the census and survey efforts, multiple times in September and October about the report. In September, a county official said the report should be released this month, adding the analysis found “inaccuracies” in the early findings.

    “Our team is working on additional data quality checks due to finding a few inaccuracies with the preliminary results,” Leila Qureishi, an official with the Santa Clara County Office of Supportive Housing, told San José Spotlight in September. “We are working to get this done as soon as possible.”

    County officials clarified this week the inaccuracies don’t affect the population size and other data released earlier this year. The delay is caused by issues with an app used to conduct the survey.

    “The county expects to release the report by early November,” a county spokesperson told San José Spotlight.

    John Connery, who’s leading the effort for Applied Survey Research, deferred questions about the delay to the county, but said this doesn’t affect the county’s eligibility for federal funding.

    Santa Clara County, one of the wealthiest regions in the country, has seen its homeless crisis explode in the last few years, with the COVID-19 pandemic further upending the lives of thousands of families and residents. Despite unprecedented funding to bring more housing solutions online, efforts continue to fall short, as residents fall into homelessness at a faster rate than people are being housed. Santa Clara County saw its unhoused population grow 3% during the pandemic, from 9,706 homeless people in 2019 to 10,028 this year.

    Delay prompts questions

    A number of neighboring counties—including San Francisco, Alameda and San Mateo—released their homeless census and survey reports in August and September. The last time Santa Clara County did the point in time survey was 2019, and it took the county only six months to publish the results.

    The delay is raising questions and frustration among advocates, who rely on the information to better help this vulnerable population.

    “Accountability and transparency is drastically lacking in our approach to homelessness here in Silicon Valley,” Todd Langton, co-founder of homeless advocacy group Agape Silicon Valley, told San José Spotlight. “How can we know what we’re supposed to be aiming for and working toward if we don’t have the data from this count?”

    Virginia Becker, another local homeless advocate, said the timing of the delayed report is curious.

    “I wonder if they have something to hide or something they don’t want people to know about before the election,” Becker told San José Spotlight. “This is information voters need to know before they go to the polls.”

    Geneva Strickland, a former homeless person who helped conduct the survey, told San José Spotlight she turned in at least 100 responses for the survey earlier this year. She recounted seeing a significant number of young people during her survey and worries their needs are not being met because of the delayed report.

    “It was a big deal when we’re doing it,” she said. “That’s terrible that they have not released it. We worked really hard on getting that information.”

    Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.

    Comment Policy (updated 11/1/2021): We reserve the right to delete comments or ban users who engage in personal attacks, hate speech, excess profanity or make verifiably false statements. Comments are moderated and approved by administrators.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published.