Understanding the Root of Our Homeless Crisis

We all can agree that homelessness is a severe crisis in our community, and many others across the country. But misconceptions and stereotypes often cloud a shared understanding of the actual causes, and in turn, the solutions to homelessness.

To shed more light on what’s at the root of homelessness, we joined with national and regional experts in the field for a candid conversation on causes and solutions, in partnership with San Jose Spotlight and SV@Home. We wanted to share the key takeaways from this important discussion. You can also watch a recording of the event here.

Let’s start with some context on homelessness in our community. Since 2020, 6,890 people have been permanently housed in Santa Clara County, with 94% still in their homes. We’ve also prevented homelessness for thousands of families, and increased temporary shelter and housing options by 25%.

As a result, we’ve slowed the growth of the crisis with fewer people becoming homeless each month. But there are still roughly 10,000 people suffering unhoused and tens-of-thousands more at-risk. Why? It’s not due to personal failures or shortcomings.

Homelessness is a symptom of systemic problems ignored for decades, and the crisis persists in our community because we are failing to address root causes at scale.

At the core of our homelessness crisis is a drastic lack of affordable housing. For decades, our community has not created enough housing to match our population needs, with the most severe shortfall among housing that’s affordable for our lowest-income residents. In Santa Clara County, there are currently just 32 affordable and available homes for every 100 extremely low-income households.

With so few viable housing options available to them, thousands of our most vulnerable residents have been forced to the streets, while tens-of-thousands more are severely-rent burdened and just one unexpected event away from falling into homelessness.

Our crisis has been further exacerbated by the fact that our region suffers the greatest income inequality in the nation. A recent report found that the top 25% of the Silicon Valley region holds 92% of the region’s wealth, and over the past two decades, our highest-paid workers have seen incomes continually grow, while workers at the bottom rungs of the economic ladder have actually seen wages decline.

As a result, it is now virtually impossible for our lowest-income workers to keep up with the rising cost-of-living – and particularly exorbitant housing costs – being driven by the region’s high-wage earners.

And despite this clear need for financial assistance to help the most vulnerable residents meet basic needs, policymakers, particularly at the federal level, have not adequately invested in our social safety net. As a result, today only one out of four eligible low-income renters receive federal rental assistance.

Read more about the federal action needed to solve the housing and homelessness crisis in this piece in The Hill we co-authored with our partner Nicole Taylor at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

“Homelessness is a societal failure, not an individual one.”

Jeff Olivet, Executive Director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness

Hear more straight from the experts in this illuminating panel further breaking down how we got to this point, and what we must do to end and prevent homelessness.

The Solutions We Must Embrace and Scale

Overcoming these powerful systemic challenges does not come easy. The crisis we face today has been decades in the making, and we won’t be able to solve it overnight. But we know how to end homelessness – by ramping up production of permanent housing our lowest-income neighbors can afford and doubling down on successful prevention efforts.

Through the Community Plan to End Homelessness, a broad array of stakeholders are driving towards the type of systemic change we need to to turn the tide on this massive humanitarian crisis. And as we look ahead, there are many signs of hope on the immediate horizon.

Thanks to the Measure A housing bond, we are accelerating the production of affordable housing in our community. Eight developments (with 830 affordable apartments) are already open and another seven (representing an additional 658 units) are opening this year. All together, the County has approved funding for 41 developments that will collectively bring 4,441 new affordable homes to our community in the next few years.

We’re also leveraging State funding to quickly convert more underutilized motels into permanent housing. With the latest announcement last monththe State has now funded Homekey projects in Mountain View, Santa Clara and San Jose that will collectively house hundreds of vulnerable individuals – and we have several more promising Homekey proposals in the pipeline. 

In addition, we’re leveraging more than 1,000 Emergency Housing Vouchers to help unhoused families find a permanent home as part of our Heading Home campaign.

Despite what you might hear this political season, there is no quick fix or silver bullet when addressing a crisis decades in the making. Fewer people are becoming homeless each day because we’ve been investing in lasting solutions, rather than simply pushing this crisis out of sight. But we must continue to invest in and scale up this long term response.

Data and metrics are important tools to measure what’s working, but let’s remember that what we are solving for: an end to avoidable human suffering. We must remain focused on creating real permanent housing solutions for every person and addressing the actual root causes of homelessness.

Check out our Understanding Homelessness resource to dive deeper into this complex societal challenge.

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