In a place with so much wealth and ingenuity, it is perhaps one of Silicon Valley’s greatest failures that we haven’t solved our homeless and housing crisis.
We have one of the largest populations of people living on our streets in the nation, all while being home to some of the greatest innovation our world has ever seen. We connect people and resources worldwide, but we haven’t engineered a way to connect our community with affordable housing. So how far has our innovation really come?
The next few months will test how Silicon Valley is viewed by the nation when we are given the opportunity to vote in November on several different affordable housing measures in Santa Clara, Alameda and San Mateo counties. If voters pass all three, the total allocation for affordable housing is more than $2 billion over 20 years.
Here in Santa Clara County, voters will consider Measure A, a $950 million housing bond put on the ballot by the Board of Supervisors, that could be used to build affordable housing and permanent, supportive homes for thousands of community members, with much of those dollars targeting our most vulnerable residents.
Homelessness has long been considered an impossible and reluctantly acceptable problem, but the impetus for putting the bond on the ballot was the refusal to accept the myth that homeless men and women do not want to come home.
We know the solution to homelessness is a home, but there’s no cavalry coming, no flood of federal or state resources on the horizon. However unconscionable, that means the responsibility lies with us. The inventors, creators, elected officials and experts who can work together to increase the one resource that solves the crisis — housing — are all right here in Silicon Valley.
With input from nonprofit, faith and community leaders, a Community Plan to End Homelessness was created with a focus on housing first, a strategy to assist homeless individuals that has an 88 percent success rate in keeping people housed nationwide, according to a study by the nonprofit Pathways to Housing.
A cost study was commissioned in Santa Clara County to determine the public cost of homelessness. We found that providing housing is far more cost effective than covering the cost of emergency services for those on the streets. We know that when people have a safe and stable place to live that everything else in their lives has the opportunity to improve, from education to employment to health.
The elected officials are doing their jobs by putting the right systems in place that can keep people in their homes while more efficiently using government resources. But it is not enough. The missing piece is the community support to increase the supply of housing; critical to not only ending homelessness but providing housing stability to thousands of seniors, veterans and working families.
Our homeless and housing crisis is the hands of the electorate now. Silicon Valley is known for doing things differently. We can be known for ending homelessness too.
Jennifer Loving is executive director of Destination: Home, a program of the Health Trust, is a public-private partnership working to end homelessness in Santa Clara County.