Santa Clara expects increase in homeless residents

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Santa Clara wants to address homelessness throughout the city, as officials expect the number of unhoused residents has grown during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Advocates and residents discussed the prevalence of homelessness in Santa Clara during a Tuesday meeting of the city’s eight-member homelessness task force, which launched at the end of April and meets monthly through October. The task force is working on a plan to solve the problem, and suspects there are more than the 326 homeless people counted in the city in 2019.

An annual Point in Time count of how many homeless people live in the region resumed this year after taking a break during the pandemic. Data specific to Santa Clara has yet to be released, but initial results counted more than 10,000 homeless people throughout the entire county. In San Jose alone, there are approximately 6,739 homeless residents, an 11% increase from the 2019 count.

Adam Marcus, spokesperson for Santa Clara’s Community Development Department, told he expects homeless data for the city to be released next month.

“Regional numbers went up slightly, so we anticipate a similar trend at the local level,” Marcus said.

Santa Clara County has an ambitious goal to end homelessness by 2025, which some critics question.

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Geoffrey Morgan, president of nonprofit affordable housing organization First Community Housing, said there’s frustration with how the homeless count is done and that it’s not accurate.

“There’s always people who get missed. But it’s the best we have,” he said.

The task force formed after the Santa Clara City Council voted unanimously in November to reject a proposal to build 60 units of transitional housing and asked the city to look for different sites. The decision drew a large amount of responses, with many residents opposed to the proposal.

The city hired Homebase, a San Francisco-based nonprofit public interest law firm, for $75,000 to facilitate the task force and examine the needs and service gaps for the unhoused. Because the nonprofit is taking the lead instead of the city, its meetings are not subject to state transparency requirements that traditionally govern public meetings.

Eli Hamilton, Homebase directing attorney, said the total number of unhoused people is always shifting between cities in the county due to frequent moving. He added the homeless count does not capture the number of people who are couch surfing or in otherwise unstable housing situations.

The key causes of homelessness are job loss and substance use, according to county data. Of those who struggle to find permanent housing, 66% said they can’t afford rent and 56% have no job or income.

“It really fits with what we know to be true about the housing market in this area,” Hamilton said, adding most housing in the city is built for people with high incomes.

Santa Clara has programs like a community response team to help people access services such as daytime shelter, meal programs, job training and health care. But Morgan said while the county has housed more than 17,000 people in the last five years, every city—not just Santa Clara—needs more resources like interim and overnight shelters to more permanent supportive housing.

“As frustrating as it is, you have to realize without the work we’ve done, that number of 10,000 (homeless people) would be 20,000,” he said. “It’s because we are not building enough housing as a society.”

Two additional task force meetings will take place on Aug. 25 and Sept. 22 before a public hearing of the plan to address homelessness later this fall.

Contact Natalie Hanson at [email protected] or @nhanson_reports on Twitter.

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