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.
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. Read more in the National Alliance to End Homelessness’ Housing First Fact Sheet.
Fiction vs Fact
A common misperception is that most homeless individuals would prefer to live outside.
However, the 2019 Homeless Census and Survey reported that 89% of homeless individuals stated that they were interested in permanent housing.
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 – 96% of PSH clients in Santa Clara County have remained stably housed for more than 12 months, 2Community Plan to End Homelessness, End-of-Year Progress Report. December 2019.
https://destinationhomesv.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Community-Plan-Progress-Report-Feb-2020.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 homelesness 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 1,500 households per year through Rapid Rehousing, of which roughly 70% are able to successfully maintain stable housing upon exiting the program. 4County of Santa Clara, Supportive Housing System of Care Report, February 20, 2020:
Santa Clara County’s Homelessness Prevention System is designed to assist vulnerable families and individuals who are on the verge of becoming homeless. The system provides temporary financial assistance, legal support and other services to help at-risk families and individuals maintain their housing and avoid falling into homelessness. Since 2017, the system has provided assistance to close to 2,000 households – 95% of whom remained stably housed while enrolled in the program. 5Destination: Home, Homelenssess Prevention Report. July 1, 2017 – June 30, 2020.
Special Initiatives Targeting Specific
In addition to the broad-based programs listed above, our community has also implemented special initiatives targeted towards different demographics of homeless individuals. These initiatives – which include both ad-hoc efforts and more sustained campaigns – leverage different dedicated funding streams to help address the unique needs of different segments of our homeless community.
For example, the All the Way Home campaign to address veteran homelessness in Santa Clara County leverages HUD-VASH and other rental subsidies, as well as financial incentives to landlords, to help match homeless veterans to a stable home. Through this effort, we’ve helped just under 2,000 homeless veterans find permanent housing since 2015. 6All the Way Home 2020 Annual Report:
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.
Spurring affordable housing development 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 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.
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
- Ensure that people accessing safety net services have the support they need to obtain and maintain housing.
- Ensure that people involved in the criminal justice system do not become homeless.
- Create the conditions to develop enough affordable housing to meet the need in our community.
- Protect residents from evictions, displacement, and housing discrimination.
- Ensure all residents who are able to work have access to living wage employment.
- Expand public and private sector support for ending and preventing homelessness.
Expand homelessness prevention and housing programs to meet the need
- Increase the capacity of supportive housing programs for people experiencing homelessness.
- Provide a broad range of supports to prevent homelessness.
- Create a state-of-the-art supportive housing system.
Improve quality of life for unsheltered individuals and create healthy neighborhoods for all
- Double the number of year-round temporary housing beds and offer a variety of welcoming temporary housing options throughout the county.
- Increase street outreach, hygiene services, and transportation options to match the needs of unsheltered residents.
- Increase mental health and substance use services.
- Engage a cross-section of community partners to address the needs of unsheltered residents.
- Ensure that community spaces are safe and welcoming for housed and unhoused residents.homelessness.
- Create a state-of-the-art supportive housing system.
While critics will often point to the cost in implementing these types of significant policy and systemic changes, it’s important to note the huge cost of inaction. A 2015 study, Home Not Found: The Cost of Homelessness in Silicon Valley, found that our community is already spending more than $520 million/year in public safety, health care, criminal justice and other public services attributed to our homelessness crisis – while also noting the most persistently homeless individuals could be housed at a much lower cost.
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.