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Mission possible: ending homelessness

Destination: Home brings together public and private entities to solve on of our country’s biggest challenges

Destination: Home brings together public and private entities to solve on of our country’s biggest challenges

It’s no secret that Santa Clara County has become an expensive place to live. For many people, it’s cost prohibitive to buy a home or rent here, and a shortage of affordable housing has contributed to a housing crisis — and an accompanying homelessness crisis. But, as Jennifer Loving, CEO of Destination: Home, points out, the county also has tremendous resources.

“We have all the problems and all the solutions in the same 10-mile radius,” she says.

Destination: Home, Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s newest supporting organization, focuses on bringing together people and strategies to end homelessness. Loving and her team work with public officials and private organizations, such as Cisco, to devise and fund solutions.

“We bring these pieces together,” she says. “No one can do this really big, messy work on their own. It’s about a community taking responsibility.” And for Loving, the responsibility piece is key.

“The problem with homelessness in the county is that until recently no single entity has taken responsibility,” she says. “What has happened historically is that everybody points to each other. … Meanwhile, there’s this rotating orchestra of people suffering. We’re all responsible — together. Everyone has a role to play. Some are going to build housing, and some are going to pay for stuff. That’s collective impact.”

Addressing the Issue from All Sides

With approximately 7,400 people without a home on any given night in the county — and 2,000 of those considered chronically homeless — Destination: Home’s purpose is clear: to figure out ways to provide for permanent, sustainable housing for everyone.

Part of that, Loving notes, has been shifting toward a “Housing First” mentality. “This is the idea that we can provide people experiencing homelessness with housing as quickly as possible. Then we can figure out how to ensure they get the services they need to maintain that housing.”

Increasing the supply of affordable housing has also been a focus, and Destination: Home has been working on strategies to prevent homelessness in the first place.

“We raised over $4 million from our public and private partners and are putting it into a homelessness prevention system,” Loving explains. This system helps those who are at risk of losing their homes get the financial assistance they need.

Destination: Home is also serious about tracking its investments and measuring whether its strategies and programs indeed prevent homelessness.

The Business Community in Action

Success requires strong community partners, and in March, tech giant Cisco committed $50 million over the next five years to Destination: Home to help end homelessness.

“In 2016, we made a bold commitment to positively impact 1 billion lives by 2025,” explains Mary de Wysocki, Cisco’s senior director of corporate affairs. The company identifies various issues in communities all around the world where it believes it can have a real impact, whether that’s through technology, systems strategy, volunteerism or grants.

“We want to enable problem-solvers like Jen Loving and Destination: Home … who are thinking like entrepreneurs and working as social change agents,” she says. “They’re looking at the challenge of homelessness in a very systems-oriented fashion, which helps lead to stronger, more cost-effective solutions.”

The company sees opportunities to be a strategic partner with Destination: Home and really make a difference — a promise that has been well-received by Cisco’s employees as well.

“We’re a small part of the story,” de Wysocki says. “But hopefully, we can be an enabler of people like Jen to accomplish really amazing things.”

The Story of Measure A

The leadership of Santa Clara County also has been important, Loving says. “The richest valley in the world has people every day with no safe place to lay their heads, or do their homework, or have a family conversation or to just be,” says Supervisor Cindy Chavez of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.

In 2016, voters passed Measure A, a $950 million bond, which raised property taxes in order to build low-income housing and provide assistance for moderate-income households and first-time homebuyers. Chavez led campaign fundraising and helped get the message out to voters.

Polling data showed that voters were recognizing housing and homelessness as major issues. And leaders in the community — including SVCF — stepped up to contribute to the campaign.

“It wasn’t just the money; it was the leadership. That kind of leadership changes the destiny of communities,” Chavez says. Today, the county is focused on getting Measure A funds into building projects as quickly as possible.

“For people who are homeless, every day, you’re risking your life being on the streets,” Chavez says. “That’s hard to think about.”

So far, $25 million has been approved for a first-time homebuyer down-payment assistance program. About $12 million has gone to an acquisition and predevelopment fund, and about $111 million has been committed to build 10 multifamily housing developments. Chavez believes homelessness can be solved.

“It’s possible to leverage the talents and compassion of our community to do good things,” she says. “And we’re not done. We’re going to need more help. But I just want to shout from the mountaintops that we’re so close to getting this one done on our watch. And we couldn’t do it without the foundations in our community or people like Jen Loving.”