We see them sitting on sidewalks, resting in parks, and sleeping in encampments along creeks and under highway overpasses. We see the growing costs for public health, risks to community safety, and damage to our environment.
We see people suffering and even dying on our streets.
More than 4,000 homeless men, women, and children live in San José. That’s 62 percent of Santa Clara County’s homeless population.
And the problem seems to be getting worse every day. It is certainly more visible.
Homelessness is a community crisis in our region. It demands a regional solution. And for perhaps the first time, key local government agencies, nonprofits, and businesses are at the table working together. Finally, we see some light at the end of this very dark tunnel.
There is a nationally proven model that ends homelessness and saves lives: Permanent supportive housing, which is affordable housing combined with onsite services for vulnerable residents. It has worked in Utah, New Orleans, and Chicago.
But here in Silicon Valley, our extremely high costs of land, construction, and annual expenses for operations and services have made supportive housing virtually impossible. Until now.
This summer, San José, in partnership with the Santa Clara County and the Santa Clara County Housing Authority, will use $40 million to fund the development of permanent supportive housing
The Housing Authority will provide project-based vouchers to subsidize the rent of each apartment. The county will fund services needed to ensure the health and well-being of every resident by contributing thousands of dollars a year per apartment. Experienced affordable housing developers and service providers will build and operate these developments that will provide stability for hundreds of people most in need of our help.
Other agencies and community groups are stepping up. The Santa Clara Valley Water District is identifying potential sites it owns that can be used specifically for housing homeless people. Over the winter, communities of faith opened their places of worship to shelter hundreds of people, providing thousands of dollars and volunteer hours to ensure that every person had a warm meal, showers, and respite from the cold.
And this month, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to place a $950 million affordable housing bond on the November ballot. This is an unprecedented opportunity to actually build thousands of homes for the unhoused, protect our neighborhoods and reclaim lives.
But it will take our entire Silicon Valley village to bring this daily tragedy to an end.
We need more businesses and residents to welcome supportive housing developments in their neighborhoods as a permanent solution to getting people off the streets. We need landlords to rent their apartments to homeless people who can pay the rent with public subsidies but now can’t find a willing landlord. We need Silicon Valley corporate leaders to contribute to solutions and help improve the lives of homeless people.
And we need voters to turn out in November to support the county’s affordable housing bond measure.
We can end homelessness for veterans, seniors, families and individuals, but we can’t do it alone. We need everyone to own the problem, and we need everyone to champion the solution. We need the heart, compassion and drive for innovation that defines San Jose and Silicon Valley.
We can’t afford to miss this rare window of opportunity. Now is the time that we all must come together to end homelessness. At last.
Jacky Morales-Ferrand is Director of Housing for San José and a board member of Destination: Home. She wrote this for the Mercury News.