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End homelessness with Housing First

There are nearly 5,000 homeless individuals residing in San Jose in places not fit for human habitation. They live along creeks, in vehicles, and on our streets. I’m sure you’ve seen homeless people around our shopping centers and even next to freeways. In Santa Clara County, 30 percent of the homeless population remains chronically homeless. In a region of such high wealth, it is disgraceful that people are living in such unsafe and unsanitary conditions.

The homeless are suffering. Most have mental health or addiction problems. But, the general population is paying a heavy price too. Emergency medical care, temporary shelter, and encampment removals are costly to local governments. It is estimated to cost around $60,000 each year to care for a chronically homeless individual, nearly four times the $16,000 cost of providing permanent housing. And with all the services to the homeless, they are still unhoused!

The city and county are working on a solution called Housing First — a core concept of a national movement to end homelessness. It has been tested and proven that only by first securing safe, decent and permanent housing, can homeless individuals begin to turn their lives around. If they have to wait in line for a shelter bed, or worse, sleep outside, how can they possibly look for a job? Of course many are seriously disabled, physically or mentally, and may need to be supported their entire lives. Tolerating homeless encampments is not the answer — not in this day and age, and not in this city.
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Both Mayor Sam Liccardo and county Supervisor Dave Cortese have made ending homelessness one of their top priorities. They support Destination: Home, a countywide partnership based on Housing First. As part of its Housing 1000 campaign, Destination: Home was able to secure housing for 715 individuals in Santa Clara County, with 81 percent of those individuals remaining housed after one year. With the continuing support of community partners, Destination: Home plans to build 6,000 more housing units by 2020.

If you see a homeless encampment, call the San Jose Homeless Helpline at (408) 510-7600 or email ehcoutrach@ehclifebuilder.org. An outreach team member will visit the encampment to gather information and establish a plan for each location. While the outreach workers, in many cases, cannot forcibly remove the individuals, they can offer them with housing and counseling resources.

Many people, including the mayor and council, are working hard to find solutions to the very complex and tragic problem of homelessness. Now that the economy is recovering from the severe recession, I am hopeful that homelessness in our city will be greatly reduced if not ended altogether.