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Opinion: We must fight off post-pandemic tidal wave of homelessness

The past year has been devastating for the most vulnerable among us

Silicon Valley is at a crossroads. While many in our community have continued to prosper through the pandemic, the past year has been devastating for the most vulnerable among us. With significant job losses in the service sector, a continued lack of affordable housing, and a growing level of need that far outpaces relief efforts, we’re now seeing families being overcome by crippling debt, the threat of eviction, and a future that doesn’t offer much promise for them or their children.

One thing we have learned over the past year is that together, we can make a difference. Since last March, a coalition of 70 Santa Clara County non-profit organizations and community groups partnered together to distribute $36 million in rental and financial assistance that was raised from corporations, foundations, government entities, and individuals. This effort assisted more than 15,000 households in-need.

That effort helped people such as Sara, a 47-year old cancer survivor and live-in housekeeper who lost her job and her home when the pandemic began and needed assistance to not only find a new place to live but also address her medical needs. It also helped Joe, who could no longer get to work when public transit schedules were cut back. He used to make up for these lost wages as well as address car troubles and secure auto insurance so he could get back to work.

By focusing on the lowest income earners, our partners also ensured that equity was at the core of this work. Ninety-four percent of those households we helped identified as being people of color, 68% of them included children, and 77% of them qualify as extremely low income households (an annual income of under $50,000 a year for a family of four).

While recent funding from the federal and the state government offer some tools to keep people housed, many of the lowest-income residents are still at risk of being left out. That’s because the government funds don’t provide the flexibility needed to address the myriad financial challenges facing economically vulnerable families, such as Sara and Joe. Beyond just paying the rent, many people have had to continue to forgo food, medical bills, car payments and much more over the past several months and need help to meet the burgeoning demand.

The need remains significant, and we’re now faced with a crisis. Families in the most recent phase of assistance have reported that their income dropped by two-thirds since the beginning of the pandemic, and they now owe an average of $5,000 in back rent. With debt mounting and people falling so far behind on their bills, there’s real reason to believe we’re facing a tidal wave of homelessness in the months ahead, if we don’t do more now. Moreover, the eviction moratorium is set to expire in this month, so we’re running out of time.

That’s why we are now calling on those who have continued to prosper over the past year to join us and invest in the lives of the people who are essential to our community. These families need our help and support, and our efforts over the past year have truly illustrated that corporate and philanthropic dollars can provide the type of flexible, life-saving assistance that is desperately needed. This funding can make a real difference in stabilizing the futures of so many here in our community that have been hit the hardest.

By coming together to support our community, we have the ability to truly make a difference for those who need our help. Enabling the most vulnerable to navigate the crisis they are facing makes our community stronger, and it’s our obligation to do all that we can do to support them. The future can be brighter, but only if we make it an inclusive future that embraces everyone.

Chuck Robbins is CEO of Cisco. Jennifer Loving is CEO of Destination: Home.