Op-Ed: Latest Homeless Census Highlights Need for New Ideas

The truth about homelessness is that elected officials focus more on saving their political lives than saving housing insecure and unhoused lives. If they had any political will, they’d address these issues with the seriousness and expediency they deserve rather than platitudes like “we can do better.” They’d tell the NIMBYs “these are you neighbors and we’re going to house them in the neighborhoods they live in.”

Period.

With a 31 percent increase, Santa Clara County’s 2019 homeless rate increase is nearly twice that of San Francisco’s. Is the difference because they’ve created navigation centers and opened hundreds more shelter beds while Santa Clara County hasn’t?

San Jose’s 2019 Point in Time (PIT) Count was up 42 percent. The 2018 city of Los Angeles PIT count was down 6 percent. Is it because they’ve created so many new shelters? Is it because they passed a sales tax that’s funding unhoused services? Is it because they spent $619 million in 2018 to address homelessness? L.A. County’s 2018 PIT count was also down, 4 percent.

Also, in L.A. and L.A. County, more than a quarter of their unhoused population is sheltered while 82 percent of Santa Clara County’s falls in that subgroup. I have asked county and city elected officials to form a task force to study unhoused services in L.A. and San Francisco, to search for additional providers and service options, but nobody has prioritized that. The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority mission statement is: LAHSA supports and creates solutions to homelessness in Los Angeles County by providing leadership, advocacy, planning, and management of program funding.

The Santa Clara County Office of Supporting Housing’s mission statement is: The Office of Supportive Housing’s (OSH) mission is to increase the supply of housing and supportive housing that is affordable and available to extremely low income or special needs households. OSH supports the County mission of promoting a healthy, safe, and prosperous community by ending and preventing homelessness. There’s vastly important disparities between the two.

Based on the 2017 Santa Clara County PIT count, 35 percent of women and 13 percent of men were victims of domestic violence. Why then are there so few shelters for unhoused domestic violence victims and why do none of them readily accept pets? Decisions like this leave people in dangerous, perhaps deadly, situations.

In 2018, 63 percent of unhoused people were experiencing homelessness for the first time. Where are the elected officials pushing for increased tenant protections? Where is the call for a mass influx of funds to programs that provide rental assistance to prevent folks from becoming homeless?

Last year, 40 percent of adults in the “Supportive Housing System” were over age 51. Why are there no shelters that specialize in the needs of seniors? Why is there no call for one from any elected official?

The number of Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) units available in many cities is even more pitifully low than San Jose: Campbell 0; Cupertino 6; Milpitas and Morgan Hill 40 each; Mountain View 51; Gilroy, Palo Alto and Sunnyvale all have less than 90. Of roughly 135,000 rental units in San Jose 1,013 are PSH and 159 are for Rapid Rehousing. Yep, a measly .75 percent of all rental units in San Jose are PSH.

In 2018, some 29 percent of unhoused people identified as LGBTQ. And yet there is only one, 20-bed shelter dedicated to that population. We cannot celebrate a shelter for 20 people and feel as if we’ve done enough. In 2017, 72 percent of unhoused families with children were unsheltered. The waiting list for family shelters is in the hundreds and yet no elected official is calling for new family shelters.

In 2018, people in the Supportive Housing System spent on average 144 days in shelters/transitional housing and were unhoused for two years. Why then is the Office of Supportive Housing pushing to cut the length of stay for unhoused people at the Sunnyvale shelter to 120 days? If the average is 144 days, shouldn’t folks at all shelters be given at least that many days?

Additionally, of the 1,040 shelter clients housed in 2018, the Sunnyvale shelter, with one case worker, housed 150 of them. The Sunnyvale shelter is far and away the safest and cleanest with decades of good reputation and good will.

The San Jose Police Department is now patrolling local waterways. I have no idea who thought that was helpful, I and other advocates made it clear to the police chief this was a bad idea and would not be received well by unhoused people who are frequently harassed by law enforcement. SJPD and the Sheriff’s Office doing “warrant checks” creates a sense of distrust amongst unhoused people. These warrant checks can destabilize camps if the leader is removed for a warrant--which are usually non-violent and petty.

Additionally, removing a camp leader or a domestic partner, leaves women at greater risk which is thoroughly untenable when 50 percent of all unhoused women have been raped at least once during their homelessness.

This might be a good time to point out that SJPD used to have motel vouchers they could use for DV victims, but those went away due to budget cuts. Additionally, in my personal interactions with SJPD, I can say their unhoused domestic violence response is poor and it’s fairly well documented that their responses to mental health issues often ends in fatality. If people don’t feel the police are there to protect them, they don’t cooperate with them or outreach to them, even in emergency, and that’s dangerous.

In 2017, 11 percent of unhoused people had been in the foster care system. According to recent data, one fourth of the countries 437,500 foster youth will end up in the prison system within two years of leaving care. 90 percent of foster youth with five or more placements will enter the prison system. Studies say at least 70 percent of people in the prison system were once in foster care.

So where’s the intense effort to overhaul our foster system to keep foster children out of the justice system and away from homelessness?

According to San Jose’s mayor, for every one person they house, three more become homeless. If these are the facts, what is he doing to address that disparity? What’s he doing to reduce housing insecurity? Who’s holding landlords accountable for evicting disabled folks to make more money, forcing people to live in squalor, increasing rents to exorbitant heights? Don’t these numbers prove that the county’s staunch stance of only supporting PSH is flawed? That the city’s lallygagging on sanctioned encampments, safe parking and tiny homes is only hurting people?

Where’s the county’s push to prevent homelessness? To provide rehabs that folks don’t have to win a lottery to enter? To provide new shelters and navigation centers? To provide sanctioned encampments? To provide safe parking areas en masse, like at all county buildings? Or at the future Housing Authority site on St. John Street?

As for the city of San Jose, where’s the aggressive action to turn large empty parcels into navigation centers or shelters? The two empty Orchard Supply sites, the empty Lowe’s site, the empty former Family Courthouse, the soon to be empty downtown Safeway? To turn vacant lots—so many labeled “Barry Swensen building here”—into safe parking or sanctioned encampments until groundbreaking? To turn all city-owned lots into safe parking programs?

The lack of political will is endangering, torturing and killing unhoused people. The lack of increased rent control causes more people to become homeless. The lack of enough shelters and navigation centers, particularly for the most fragile—seniors, families and domestic violence, forces people to stay outside where they die of largely preventable causes like diabetes and pneumonia.

Focusing on PSH while ignoring sanctioned encampment, tiny home and safe parking options only increases the unhoused death rate. The 2019 PIT count reinforces that. The numbers highlight the need for new ideas—and somebody willing to lead with them.

Shaunn Cartwright is an activist, housing rights advocate and co-founder of South Bay Tenants Union. Opinions in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected]

21 Comments

  1. Considering the surplus of money at the state capitol the governor could use that money to train the homeless in jobs needed to support the infrastructure of the state. Such jobs are repairing and expanding our roads, clearing brush and overgrown trees around power lines, building dams, feeding the people being trained to do the new jobs.Holding on to every surplus dollar in this state in hopes of a down turned economy is hurting the people. Not putting people to work might just support the idea the president Trump is on the right track. So build the wall, and dams, and roads just like FDR did and the state will prosper and so will the people.

    • Your assumption is that homelessness == joblessness. That’s not necessarily the case. Homelessness is a super complex problem. It’s not as easy as “put them to work to build the wall that Mexico was supposed to pay for.”

  2. The truth about homelessness is politicians aren’t going to waste a dime on “Unemployed American” if they can replace them with undocumented Democrats!

    • Don’t assume that the homeless are undocumented. Most are not. And many homeless are actually working. Having a job is not a guarantee that one will be able to afford rent. Many people become homeless when the rent is raised beyond their pay level. Sometimes it is a medical emergency that results in a loss of income that means eviction. Fifty percent of the bankruptcies in this country are caused by a medical emergency – and most of those people had health insurance!!

  3. Excellent article by a knowledgeable and long time advocate for the homeless and housing insecure of Silicon Valley. It would be great if the mayor and other politicians would respond to it. Very little is ever accomplished by politicians without the courage to do what is right rather than what is popular. Too many of our elected officials respond to the knee jerk negativity of nimbys rather than to what is right and needed to work towards viable solutions to the issues.

    • The truth about homelessness is………………………… What?

      What I’m telling you is, this homeless crisis is the result of politicians/lawyers handy work. They have much more invested these days in housing illegal aliens coming into the area than they have in sick dirty Americans.

      The homeless are simply to expensive a problem. Feed them keep them keep them where they can be seen, and tell the voters re-elect me and everything will be free, I’ll tax the filthy rich, bring in migrants that will pay more taxes and will send your kids to Stanford for Free!

      Aren’t they Great?

  4. All Ms Cartwright and her cohorts have done is scapegoat landlords and developrs while creating conditions for more homeless. Her support for Rent Control, JCE, and exorbitant fees and restrictions on development have helped keep rents high, lowered supply, made it necessary for landlords to put evictions on tenants credit reports. All while making it more expensive to create supply in the hopes that a incompentent city council will build enough BMR housing to meet demand. I can not say if Ms Cartwright is actually controlled opposition, but if you wanted to make life hard as possible for poor people through myopic local legislation, you could hardly do better than mirror her career.

  5. https://www.saltoncityrealty.com/lots-and-land/?sortby=low

    APN#010-463-002 2535 KINGSTON AVE. 12,223 SQFT. HAS POWER R-1 $3,200
    Descr: Great buildable lot with all utilities to the property line. This lot is huge at 12,223 sqft with wonderful…Read More→
    APN#010-463-002 2535 Kingston Ave. Salton City Ca 92275
    $3,200

    APN#010-361-007 2535 SEA BREEZE AVE 10,003 SQFT $3,400 R-1 HAS POWER
    Descr: Very Beautiful buildable lot with all utilities to the property line. Great views of the lake and mountains. This…Read More→
    Salton City Ca 92275
    POA

    APN#011-431-015 1237 GLENDALE AVE 10007 SQFT HAS POWER R-1 $3,400.00
    Descr: Great buildable lot right off the main street. This lot has all utilities to the property line. The lot…Read More→
    APN#011-431-015 1237 Glendale Ave Salton City CA 92275
    3,400.00

    https://www.pmhi.com/floorplans/granny-flats-600-1-200-ft/item/51-the-maywood.html

    Total Liv.: 600 ft²
    Bedrooms: 1
    Bathrooms: 1
    Garage: N/A
    Ceiling Height: 8′
    Covered Porch: 108
    Home Plan Cost: Included (May 2019)
    Building Kit Cost: $27,535 (May 2019)
    Style: 1 Story

    Shaun..

    The issue is cost. It’s too expensive to do it here. Do it in Salton Sea. It’s a double win. Instead of [email protected], it’s [email protected] You also make the NIMBY’s happy and provide jobs for service people down there. If a doctor, psychiatrist, or other 6 figure health professional doesn’t want to live there, fine.. They can live 50 miles north in Palm Springs and commute in.

    Housing every homeless person here suffers from the same problem as the HSR, too many people are making a living from it.

  6. If MOVE is the solution, then who will teach our kids, look after us in the hospital, cook our food in restaurants, construct our new housing, etc. etc? Sorry, but MOVE is a simplistic response. Sounds too much like, YOU ARE SPOILING MY VIEW.

    • @ Susan Price
      “…who will teach our kids, look after us in the hospital, cook our food in restaurants, construct our new housing, etc. etc?”

      With all due respect you need to get real.

      I would love to meet this homeless teacher. Being a teacher requires a bachelors degree and credential. That’s 5-6 years of college. The starting salary for SJ Unified (the poorest district) is > $60K. Lets do some simple math here. Renting a room is $1,500 for a nice place. That works out to $1,500 * 12 months is $18,000 per year. All city employees have to go through Federal background checks for all employees that deal with minors, and they would not pass if they did not have a permanent address.

      Homeless doctors and nurses? Even more training. If you can’t manage your money, please don’t try to manage my health care. Again background checks?

      Homeless people prepare my food? With out access to proper sanitary facilities it would be quite disgusting. Please tell me where to not to eat!

      Journeyman electricians make about $35/hr that’s $70K/year. Journeyman carpenter is about $30/hr that’s $70K/year. Construction (day workers) workers maybe homeless.

      The reality is that there are homeless adults and children that need help. In addition there are a lot of homeless with mental illness and/or drug problems. Clean up the streets and you will clean up most of the homeless, at least down to a manageable number.

      Homelessness is not just in San Jose, it’s a nationwide problem. We just have an growing problem of them because we have a weak mayor.

    • MOVE is the solution, I just moved, this is no longer my problem. There are no people living in the parks here. Teachers teach not people living under a bridge. DR. and Nurses look after us not junkies and drug dealers . People cooking food in restaurants here pass a heath test aren’t infected with hepatitis, or typhoid.

      California is the richest and poorest state, it is also a lawless state. It won’t put the insane back in insane asylums. It won’t put criminals in jail. It encourages drug use. It won’t help the Fed’s stop an invasion. It doesn’t give a rip about homeless Veterans. Just hand it over to church groups to handle, California is dying. It’s becoming Third World an yes it’s spoiling my view.

    • > If MOVE is the solution, then who will teach our kids, look after us in the hospital, cook our food in restaurants, construct our new housing, etc. etc? Sorry, but MOVE is a simplistic response.

      SUSAN:

      “MOVE” has ALWAYS been the solution when humans experience a shortage of resources.

      YOUR paleolithic era ancestors were nomadic hunter-gatherers.

      When they found a good hunting ground, they foraged until they exhausted the resources. Then they MOVED.

      If a stronger tribe desired the resources in YOUR hunting ground, the stronger tribe push you out and you MOVED.

      If the king or emperor wanted his subjects to grow crops or raise sheep, the king cleared the land of nomadic foragers to make space for fields and pastures.

      “MOVE” has been “business as usual” for nomadic foragers.

  7. Thank you for the time and research Conducted to write such a comprehensive view of what we are dealing with.There are a lot of moving parts to this issue however you outlined beautifully the objective truth that we as citizens face on a daily basis.Homelessness is not a problem to be solved .It is a symptom that must be reckoned with.The unmitigated greed the apathy the moral bankruptcy of our species is equally responsible for the dilemma we face.The United States is a country founded upon the institution of Slavery.The inhumanity cruelty the viciousness hiding under a thin veneer of law abiding citizens was displayed during The Trail of Tears…Chinese Exclusionary act of 1888…The working conditions during the industrial age where the Robber Barrons ruled the masses taking us from an agrarian to an hourly wage society..Japanese Interment camps…Cointel pro..Vietnam…The 3 Strikes Iaw…The California Prison system That required The Supreme Court to intervene declaring societies version of Justice was in fact Cruel and Unusual…In this History we can identify the seeds that brought us to this point in history.Human beings literally don’t care that despite all the wealth that this region has produced it has been at the expense of our most vulnerable citizens.Your facts are solid however I do not need statistics to interpret what I see and hear on a daily basis in the city that I not only grew up in but was also conceived and given birth in.Thank you for doing your part as a concerned citizen.I am in solidarity with you as a citizen and as a human being to affirm the dignity value and potential that exist in every one of our suffering citizens.The disparity in wealth distribution is crime that leaves no finger print yet the DNA when examined will lead you to who the real culprit is…The only thing necessary for evil to exist is for good men to do nothing..I refuse to stay inactive.I am morally obligated to exercise my duty as it is outlined in the founding document of this country..peace

  8. Of course we need new ideas to deal with homelessness. I say deal with, because the problem will never be solved. One thing is certain–all the old and current ideas do little more than generate statistics. Without a repeal or serious restriction of 5150 the homeless “problem” will continue to grow.

  9. Are Cartwright and Perry the only two individuals that have a say in resolving homelessness? It seems that every publication only gets quotes and articles from those two, and honestly, they are counter-productive and yell all of the time. I saw Cartwright literally threaten a board member at the housing authority one time after rambling over her time, which i’m sure is on public record (sometime in 2015 or 2016). They are well intended, but their whole perspective is just build housing for everyone, as it’s their right. In reality, that just isn’t true (and not feasible) and we need actual ideas beyond just “build everyone a unit.” It’s easy for them to look from the outside and just point their finger constantly. I agree with Cartwright that the leaders in housing/city council are incompetent — and when the two groups try to join forces, in their current state (advocates and government), it is a total mess of incompetence…fuel on the fire. So, I believe Perry and Cartwright, just as much as local leaders, need to step aside. So many competent workers have entered the housing sector to address this issue but quickly leave after seeing how much of a mess the current leaders made…the whole system needs to be reworked, and someone has to acknowledge the current plan is failing. You have to admit you have an issue, before solving it, right?

    • For example, Cartwright talks about ideas the City is already doing — and occupying properties they don’t own. So, what is her new idea? Beyond just expanding existing ideas? Also, when you build safe parking, tiny homes, etc., there has to be a plan to exit folks from these temporary sites, and that is a whole new issue. The fact is, there aren’t enough resources at this point to address this level of homelessness, and there is no acknowledgement of the most challenging aspect of the issue, which is the rampid mental health and substance abuse issues going on in certain subpopulations. In downtown san jose, seeing people smoke rock, or have needles laying next to them is all too common now. These are folks that don’t just need an encampment…or want one frankly. Yes, Shaun, we need new ideas… so where are they? You said a bunch that the city is doing already.

      • > The fact is, there aren’t enough resources at this point to address this level of homelessness,

        AND, this has ALWAYS been true and will continue to be true as long as the “homeless” expect to live in a grand lifestyle at someone else’s expense.

        > Yes, Shaun, we need new ideas… so where are they?

        Shaun Cartwright is the textbook example of a charlatan.

        She’s just playing out the script she learned in charlatan school. And as far as she’s concerned, she probably thinks she’s a great success. She’s probably a candidate for Charlatan of The Year, or the Charlatan Hall of Fame.

        Any one who thinks that can have a meaningful dialogue with a professional charleton is a fool.,

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