Opinion: All of county’s 7,000-plus homeless need help

The outpouring for the homeless man and his school-age daughter featured on the front page of this newspaper Nov. 1 has been astonishing. From all over the Bay Area and the world, people have been writing to reporter Mark Emmons, asking how they can help ensure the pair no longer has to sleep on VTA Bus 22 at night.

Thanks to several local residents, the family stayed in a hotel and with another family until there was room in the Family Supportive Housing shelter. One local resident is creating a fund to help the father get back on his feet.

It’s heartwarming. But it’s also a frustrating reminder of the thousands more homeless people — adults and children — in Silicon Valley whose faces we never see. Every one of them needs a home, too.

The most recent Santa Clara County census of the homeless, conducted in January, found 7,631 people, including nearly 700 children, although experts believe there are more. In the course of 2013, it’s estimated that 19,063 people will be homeless at some point.

Silicon Valley, home of overnight Twitter millionaires, has one of the highest rates of chronic homelessness in the nation — and one of the reasons is the lack of affordable housing. Wealthy buyers drive up prices, and with the loss of redevelopment agencies, it’s very hard to build more.

This is just wrong. And while it’s easy to throw up our hands, that would be wrong too, because homelessness is solvable. It just requires the money and public support to find permanent, affordable homes and to connect people to the services they need to remain there, such as job placement to drug counseling. A committed community as wealthy as the valley can do this.

Jennifer Loving is executive director of Destination:Home, the public-private partnership leading efforts to end homelessness here. She says the commitment among elected officials to do this has never been stronger. But creating affordable housing is expensive, and it can’t be done overnight.

“Your story made it better” for that father and daughter, she told us. “Thank you for that.

“We want to do that for 7,000 more folks.”

For individuals and businesses who want to help, here are a few ways:

  • Follow the debate about how to build or provide affordable housing, and speak up. For starters, San Jose’s City Council next month will discuss a development fee to fund affordable housing.
  • To donate money and other things to homeless families, contact Beth Leary at Family Supportive Housing at 408-516-5101 or beth.leary@familysupportivehousing.org.
  • Go to destinationhomesv.org to learn more about the organization, its partners and how to get involved.It’s easy to help one family. Helping thousands of people — taking the solution to scale, in valley terms — is harder. The lack of affordable housing is a byproduct of Silicon Valley’s innovation and wealth — which in turn could solve it, if the commitment were there.