The faces of Santa Clara County’s homeless residents are getting older, as more seniors are unable to afford the area’s skyrocketing rents, surveyed by members of a panel on homelessness.
The panel of experts, which is moderated by Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, spoke at the “Faces of Homelessness in Silicon Valley.”
The threat of homelessness is on the rise nationwide, as service and lower-wage workers are being pushed out of housing because of the disparity between wages and housing costs, the panelists said. The Bay Area’s exceptionally high housing costs have exacerbated the situation, which is also playing out in Palo Alto.
Greenberg, who is also a psychologist, found that many of Palo Alto’s homeless population at the Opportunity Center’s Drop-in Center were once housed residents.
“I was amazed at the number of people that went to Paly and Gunn high school. So many people that grew up in middle and upper-middle class families,” he said.
Families and seniors are becoming the rising homeless populations, the panelists said.
Santa Clara County has the highest per capita of unsheltered population in the United States, even though there are six or seven jurisdictions nationally that have larger numbers of homeless, Loving said.
There are 6,500 homeless persons on Santa Clara County streets each night, but the bad news is that it is probably an undercount, she said. About 30 percent of homeless people in Santa Clara County are living on the street without shelter every day, Simitian added.
“Some of our shelters look like senior-care homes. And unlike many common perceptions about the homeless, these people, many of them, have no history of mental illness; have no history of addiction. They were living in a Mountain View apartment or a Redwood City apartment, and 10 years ago their one-bedroom rent was $800, now it’s $2,600. They have no local family and they wind up in shelters. So the face of homelessness is suddenly changing with the times,” he said.
“The housing crisis directly feeds homelessness,” added Fagan, who has reported extensively on the issue.
In San Jose alone, there are more than 300 homeless encampments, Loving said.
“There is not a city in this county that doesn’t have a problem with encampments along waterways, parks, parking garages and alleys,” she added.
Greenberg said breaking the cycle of homelessness is difficult, but he pointed to cities that have seemingly “cracked the code,” including Salt Lake City, Utah, and Cleveland, Ohio. Those cities have one-bedroom apartments for under $600 per month, compared to Redwood City’s average of $2,500 per month, he said.
When one looks at all of the problems that contribute to homelessness, the common element is that people don’t have a home, Loving said. “Housing-first” programs, with multiple supportive services to address physical and mental health, addiction and joblessness, have dropped the county’s costs for managing homelessness because people are not sick, hurt or dependent anymore, she said.
Chronicle reporter Fagan, who lived among San Francisco’s homeless for six months and reported extensively on their conditions, said that housing-first programs have dramatically reduced the cost of caring for chronically homeless persons. On average, a chronically homeless person costs $60,000 annually in city services such as repeat police calls and hospital visits, he said. But a homeless person in supportive housing costs $15,000-$20,000 per year.
“We’re turning the tide, finally, in our community,” Loving said. “Homelessness is a justice issue and homelessness is one of responsibility. But no one is actually responsible because if you are responsible, you do something about it, you’ll solve it.
“We locally have started to take responsibility in a really meaningful way over the last five years, I’d say. We’re really saying, ‘This is our problem and we’re gonna fix it.’ And that’s why we’re seeing numbers start to go down.”
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