We can end homelessness in Silicon Valley. Despite the enormity of the challenge before us, we have proven strategies for reducing and preventing homelessness in our community. Because, at the end of the day, the answer is simple: the solution to homelessness is a safe, stable and affordable home.
Data from our community’s biannual homelessness census and survey consistently shows that roughly 9 out of 10 people experiencing homelessness were interested in finding permanent housing. And just as importantly our data shows that the vast majority of people who are connected to safe, stable and affordable housing remain housed (view County system performance data).
The truth is most people experiencing homelessness would jump at the chance to find safe and stable housing, but there simply aren’t options available to them they can afford.
Housing Ends Homelessness
Communities across the country employ a variety of strategies for addressing homelessness – however, the only true solutions are those that result in stable housing. While efforts like shelters, safe parking, and substance abuse programs can play an important role in how we respond to homelessness, they do not resolve a person’s homelessness. And that’s why housing must be central to any effective strategy for combating homelessness.
This is the central tenet behind the Housing First approach – a nationally recognized, evidence-based approach to addressing homelessness that’s been adopted in Santa Clara County and countless other communities across the country.
“The Housing First approach prioritizes providing permanent housing to people experiencing homelessness, thus ending their homelessness and serving as a platform from which they can pursue personal goals and improve their quality of life. This approach is guided by the belief that people need basic necessities like food and a place to live before attending to anything less critical, such as getting a job, budgeting properly, or attending to substance use issues.”
National Alliance to End Homelessness
Housing First programs can come in many different shapes and sizes, and typically combine financial/other assistance to obtain permanent housing with a variety of support services. Most importantly, there is a growing body of research demonstrating the effectiveness of Housing First strategies in successfully addressing homelessness. Numerous studies have shown that the vast majority of people in Housing First programs obtain and maintain stable housing – and at much higher rates than in ‘treatment-first’ programs. Read more in the National Alliance to End Homelessness’ Housing First Fact Sheet.
Implementing Housing First Strategies in Santa Clara County
In Santa Clara County, a broad coalition of government, business, non-profit and philanthropic partners have come together to implement a number of Housing First strategies as part of a cohesive Supportive Housing System.
One of the first Housing First initiatives launched in Santa Clara County was Housing 1000: a three-year, community-wide campaign to house 1,000 of our community’s most vulnerable chronically homeless men, women and families. By the end of the three-year campaign, our Housing 1000 partners had connected 850 chronically homeless members of our community to housing – 83% of whom maintained stable housing. Read more about Housing 1000
The results of Housing 1000 laid the foundation for many of the successful Housing First strategies being implemented in Santa Clara County today. 1You can find more detailed information on the various Housing FIrst strategies being implemented in our community by reading the County of Santa Clara’s “State of Supportive Housing Report.” https://www.sccgov.org/sites/osh/ContinuumofCare/ReportsandPublications/Pages/EndingHomelessness.aspx
Our Successful Housing First Strategies:
Permanent Supportive Housing
Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) programs are targeted towards homeless individuals with disabilities and extensive histories of homelessness, and include long-term rental subsidies combined with case management, medical and behavioral healthcare, and other supportive services. This strategy has proven extremely successful for those with the highest barriers to obtaining and maintaining housing – 94% of PSH clients in Santa Clara County have remained stably housed for more than 12 months, 2Community Plan to End Homelessness, Mid-year Progress Report 2023.
https://destinationhomesv.org/documents/2023/08/mid-year-progress-report-2023.pdf/ and a recent UCSF study found the County’s PSH program was highly-effective for chronically homeless individuals. 3You can access the entire report here:
Rapid Rehousing is an evidence-based strategy to help families and individuals move quickly out of homelessness and into a home. Our community’s Rapid Rehousing programs provide a time-limited rental subsidy (typically 6 to 24 months) to help a household find and stabilize in permanent housing; as well as case management and supportive services to help them increase their income and address other barriers to housing stability and well-being. Our system currently serves about 1,600 households per year through Rapid Rehousing, of which roughly 73% are able to successfully maintain stable housing upon exiting the program. 4County of Santa Clara, Supportive Housing System of Care Report, August 7, 2023: https://osh.sccgov.org/sites/g/files/exjcpb671/files/documents/SH%20Dashboard%20and%20HP%20System%20Report_August%202023.pdf
We’ve seen very promising results through Homelessness Prevention – a newer strategy that combines rental assistance with other services (like legal support) and has been extremely effective at helping people on the cusp of homelessness to remain housed. The Santa Clara County Homelessness Prevention System is designed to help vulnerable families and individuals maintain their housing by providing temporary financial assistance. Since 2017, the system has provided assistance to more than 5,400 households – 95% of whom remained stably housed while enrolled in the program. 5Destination: Home, Homelessness Prevention System Fact Sheet https://destinationhomesv.org/documents/2021/03/homelessness-prevention-system.pdf/ Notre Dame’s Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities (LEO) also studied the impact of the Santa Clara County Homelessness Prevention System, identifying the first evidence from a randomized controlled trial to support what we’ve observed locally – immediate cash assistance prevents homelessness.6Notre Dame Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities, “Do homelessness prevention programs prevent homelessness? Evidence from a randomized control trial” https://destinationhomesv.org/documents/2023/06/santa-clara-county-homelessness-prevention-system-study.pdf/
Driving Policy & Systemic Solutions to Homelessness
Solving homelessness also requires policy and systemic changes that will enable us to scale our successful strategies and, ultimately, address the root causes of homelessness.
In Santa Clara County, we have developed a robust set of policy and systemic solutions that are encapsulated in the 2020-2025 Community Plan to End Homelessness. These solutions are organized around three main strategies, that together, serve as our roadmap for ending homelessness in our community.
Address the root causes of homelessness through system and policy change
Expand homelessness prevention and housing programs to meet the need
Improve quality of life for unsheltered individuals and create healthy neighborhoods for all
Spurring affordable housing development – especially the development of deeply affordable housing – is one of the most impactful policy-level changes needed to address homelessness. This is particularly true in Santa Clara County, where more affordable housing development is needed to ensure there’s a supply of available homes for the programs mentioned above, and help address the region’s exorbitantly high rents. Read more about how our community is investing in affordable housing development.
There is a large body of research refuting the misconception that affordable housing developments bring more crime or decrease property values to a neighborhood. This includes a recent UC Irvine study that found that new affordable housing developments actually increase nearby property values and reduce nearby crimes.
In addition, these developments create a much broader set of benefits to the public – not only providing more affordable housing options, but also supporting new jobs and generating new tax revenues in the communities where they’re built.
Implementing bold policy solutions never comes easy or cheap. However, we cannot accept a future in which thousands of our neighbors are forced to live outside.
In order to end homelessness, we must continue expanding housing solutions.
We must remember that this crisis is the result of decades of inaction and disinvestment, and there are sadly no quick or easy solutions. In fact, Corporation for Supportive Housing in their California Homeless Housing Needs Assessment estimates the Bay Area needs another 16,000 Supportive Housing and 28,000 affordable units to effective end homelessness in the region. While research and experience has shown us that housing first programs work, we are still not scaling these programs at the level needed to respond to the scale of the crisis. We will need to continue investing in proven housing strategies.