Cisco pledges $50 million over five years to put dent in Santa Clara County’s homelessness crisis

Cisco announced a five-year pledge today to give $50 million to Destination: Home, a public-private partnership in Santa Clara County that focuses on the simple-sounding idea that the first step toward helping the homeless should be providing permanent housing.

The money, along with $700 million from 2016’s Measure A narrowly passed by Santa Clara voters, will be used to build 120 housing projects totaling 4,800 units over the next 10 years, according to Destination: Home CEO Jennifer Loving.

Chuck Robbins, Cisco’s CEO, noting the county’s ranking of having the third-highest chronic homeless rate in the nation, said he immediately bought into Destination: Home’s approach, even though polling shows many Americans believe the root causes of homelessness are other problems that need to be addressed first.

“I think you’ve got a problem when people are dying on the streets,” he said in an interview. “You need to put them in a home before you actually solve the issues. It’s like triage. You’ve got to triage a problem and then we can get back and start solving the other things.”

In a separate interview, Loving confirmed that Robbins never had to be convinced of her organization’s approach, known as “housing first” because it aims to tackle housing, rather than other social, economic or other problems associated with homelessness, first.

“From the very first time that we met, he understood that the problem of homelessness was the lack of relatability, that people don’t understand how someone could be homeless in the same way that we understand how someone could have cancer,” Loving said. “We all know somebody who had cancer. We understand this is what it means when you have cancer. We don’t all know someone who is homeless. So it’s not as relatable. It creates this divide that doesn’t need to be there.”

Measure A was a $950 million housing bond with $700 million of that earmarked to increasing the supply of extremely low-income housing and supportive housing (housing paired with the provision of supportive social and health services).

The county says about 7,400 people here are without homes at any given time and about 2,000 are considered chronically homeless.

Chronic homelessness is the federally defined category in which Santa Clara has such a poor ranking. It means people who have been homeless for 365 days over the past three years and have a diagnosed disability, such as serious mental illness or disabling drug addiction.

The state of Utah has been credited for adopting the housing first approach and received national recognition on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” in 2015 for drastically cutting the number of chronically homeless in the state.

The nation’s — and Santa Clara County’s — largest homeless problem involves those who are not chronically homless, according to Loving.

“We have a system failure where there’s not a jurisdiction in America where minimum wage can afford you a place to live,” she said. “That housing prices have gone up so much and wages have not since Vietnam is a system failure. When 1 percent of America is homeless and we blame specific people, that is wrong. We have a poverty problem.”