Despite Taking Thousands of People Off the Streets, San Jose Sees 42% Jump in Homelessness

We were told to brace for bad news, but it still came as a shock.

San Jose’s homeless population went from 4,350 in 2017 to 6,172 this year—a 42 percent jump. For Santa Clara County as a whole, it grew by 31 percent, from 7,394 to 9,706.

That’s according to preliminary results from the county’s latest point-in-time census, which is part of a biennial nationwide tally that helps the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) figure out how much funding to allocate to each region.

County and city officials sent those stats to HUD last month but withheld them from the public until this week, sending a jointly authored press release Thursday highlighting their varied and invariably insufficient efforts to tackle the problem.

Despite pulling 6,900 people off the streets since 2016 and despite a $950 million bond to build homes for those without, Silicon Valley’s unhoused population continues to rise.

For each person snatched from homelessness, three more joined its ranks.

This, in a region that keeps building more jobs than housing, perpetuating an imbalance that fueled this crisis. And, paradoxically, a region where—even with a vacancy rate lower than other major metro areas—tens of thousands of homes sit empty.

Mayor Sam Liccardo blamed “the economy” for pushing people out the door and NIMBYs for keeping them in the cold. “We must double down on homelessness prevention,” he urged in a prepared statement, “and, in turn, alleviate the human misery and greater public cost following an eviction notice.” (Since he brought up the subject, we should note that Liccardo recently backed a study that could undermine displacement protections under the Ellis Act, which, among other things, requires landlords who tear down a rent-controlled complex to place some of the new units under the 5 percent annual rent cap.)

County Supervisor Susan Ellenberg said that although some demographics—military veterans, families—saw a decline in homelessness, the overall increase underscores the need for a “stronger and broader” approach.

“We must look to existing and new resources that can help shore up thousands of vulnerable residents of this valley before they enter this houseless cycle,” she said. “And we must double down on our focus on the chronic homeless population, which is the most visible and disruptive to our communities. … We are making progress, but we must work even harder to ensure that not another person in our county loses their most valuable resource: the roof over their heads.”

Of course, Silicon Valley’s insanely expensive housing market makes that a tough proposition. “The reasons for homelessness are many and varied,” county Supervisor Joe Simitian said. “The high cost and shortage of housing are making a bad problem worse.”

Though it’s no help to anyone on the streets right now, the county has committed $234 million of Measure A funds toward building 19 new developments slated to add a combined 1,437 housing units in the next several years. At the time of the census announcement, Supervisor Dave Cortese took questions from reporters at a 66-unit Measure A project that already fielded more than 3,500 applications in two weeks. It’s not even open, but already full. Another $25 million of the bond money is reserved to help first-time homebuyers. In addition to Measure A, the county budgeted $82 million this year for more immediate assistance through its Office of Supportive Housing.

One can only imagine what the numbers would look like without such interventions. Or if the point-in-time census were more thorough.

The survey takes place in the dead of winter, when homeless people are more likely to have found at least a temporary place to stay. It relies on shelters to self-report the number of people at each site, and on volunteers armed with clipboards to walk a given area and count people by sight before sun-up.

Volunteers led by a paid homeless guide often have to count from a distance—eyeballing the number of tents and guessing the number of people inside cars and RVs—and by a few-hour deadline that sometimes prevents them from covering all the ground in an assigned area. People hidden from view in nooks, bushes, cars or on a friend’s couch are left out. As are homeless people in jails and hospitals.

Applied Survey Research, a contractor the county hires to conduct the census, uses a multiplier to estimate how many people might be living in vehicles or under tarps. Said multiplier is based off of field research by outreach workers.

It’s a methodology that relies to no small degree on educated guesswork.

Apparently, that’s caused some confusion over the way the survey tallied one subgroup. In the breakdown of the latest numbers, there’s an asterisk by the category of “unaccompanied minors and young adults,” which shows a decline in that demographic from 1,766 in 2017 to 1,391 at the start of this year. A footnote explaining the asterisk says the decrease “is due partially to a change in methodology for counting young people.”

To Sparky Harlan—head of the Bill Wilson Center, which serves homeless youth—that 22 percent drop seems suspect. “I was surprised to see the numbers go down when referrals for our services have been going up,” she said.

In fact, it just so happened that at exactly the same time the county and city lifted an embargo on the survey numbers, Harlan was at the Santa Clara Marriott for a luncheon to raise money for her perpetually over-burdened nonprofit.

“Anecdotally, we’re seeing more young people in need,” she said.

Bill Wilson Center CEO Sparky Harlan (pictured left) spoke at a fundraising luncheon Thursday about the need to support homeless youth and young adults. (Photo by Jennifer Wadsworth)

Jeff Scott, a spokesman for San Jose’s Housing Department, said a more detailed analysis of the survey coming out in June or July may add clarity about the “change in methodology” cited in that footnote. For now, he said all he knows is that Applied Survey Research counted transitional-aged youth—that is, young adults aged 18 to 21—during the afternoon. Since the rest of the population gets counted in the predawn hours, that raised concerns of double-counting. So the county and city pushed back and told Applied Survey Research to recalculate. He said he didn’t know why the survey singled out that group for afternoon counts in the first place but would circle back if he found out.

There’s plenty of data to suggest that the point-of-time count overall, and its survey of young adults in particular, vastly underestimates the number of people who experience homelessness—both locally and nationwide.

In 2015, for example, the point-in-time put the number of homeless Americans at 564,708. But that same year, the National Center for Educational Statistics pegged the number of homeless children alone at 1.3 million. Extrapolate the number of homeless parents based on that figure, and you end up in the multi-millions.

There’s a similar discrepancy in the homeless youth and young adult figures here in San Jose. According to the California State University system, more than 4,000 San Jose State students experienced homelessness in the past year. That’s just at one school, and the numbers already eclipse the countywide total reported by Applied Survey Research.

SJSU Vice President of Student Affairs Patrick Day said the upward trajectory of homelessness requires an all-hands-on-deck response. “We need to all be alarmed,” he said at the Bill Wilson Center fundraiser, where he sat at the same table as Harlan.

Certainly, the county is up against societal ills so systemic and so vast that statistics like the latest homeless count makes the crisis seem intractable. Yet Jennifer Loving, CEO of Destination: Home, a nonprofit that helps the county coordinate regional homeless services, struck an optimistic tone. In Thursday’s news release, she said what the region’s already doing is working—it just needs more resources to scale it out.

“Bottom line,” she said, “homelessness is solvable.”

What’s widely considered a glaring weakness in the local strategy is a short-term fix.

Surveys conducted among the local homeless populations indicate that the main reason people lose their homes in Silicon Valley is because of relationship disruptions that force them out of one place and prohibitive rents that prevent them from finding a new one. Putting a temporary roof over their heads would go a long way in helping people regain their financial footing and save up for security deposits.

Yet the South Bay has long had one of the nation’s highest concentrations of unsheltered homeless, which means a higher rate of people living in cars, on the streets or along the riverbanks and train tracks—places unfit for human habitation. Since 2017, the county’s unsheltered population ticked up even higher, from 74 percent to 82 percent.

Meanwhile, the rate of encampment sweeps soared by more than 1,100 percent from 2013 to 2018 as homeless mortality rose by 164 percent from 2011 to last year.

Instead of ramping up resources for shelters, like San Francisco’s so-called navigation centers, to keep up with the growing numbers of people entering homelessness, local officials neutralized an effort to create a sanctioned encampment and dragged their feet on building tiny sleeping cabins. Restrictions at local shelters—one-night caps, referral requirements, bans on pets and partners, lack of accommodations for families or victims of battering—make them inaccessible to large swaths of homeless people.

Subsidized permanent housing can be overly restrictive, too, according to Harlan.

The “two heartbeats per room” HUD guideline that aims to prevent overcrowding, can make it nearly impossible for the Bill Wilson Center and organizations like it to find subsidized housing placements for families with more than a few children. Said Harlan: “I think we can double the number of people in housing if they changed that.”

Jennifer Wadsworth is the news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

43 Comments

  1. We have failed the most vulnerable segment of our population in Santa Clara County. For months of filming and documenting this I am at a loss for words on why they are being left to die?? I just don’t get it?? I attend almost all of the City, County, State, Federal meetings that focus on helping these people yet on a street level they are deteriorating at a fast pace. My friend told me several months back that they really are being left to die…. Not only are the politicians to blame but we as a society have turned a blind eye to human suffering in Silicon Valley. This is like watching someone drown and not helping….

    At the moment there is no walk-in treatment for substance abuse in ALL of Santa Clara County. We still have a waiting list…. a long list…. and from experience you never get Drug Treatment,,,,, I asked….. I begged…. I was told I had been sober too long to get treatment…That was only months into my sobriety…. I have now been sober (From Meth) for 3 1/2 years and still to this day cannot access treatment to maintain my sobriety.

    Recovery is not an overnight thing and the people on the streets need long terms care for their addiction problems. This is also the case with Mental Health problems….

    The worst of the worst in my videos need to be put on holds and taken off the streets immediately. This will clean things out to focus on the normal Homeless / Mentally ill population that are still trying to get out of their hole so to say.

    We need to act fast since they are ALL on Meth and the current mixture out of Mexico is turning these people crazy. Just open your front door and listen to the Meth Heads screaming…. It’s everywhere in San Jose….It has become normal…

    The Video provided below is of a Gal named Chevelle that is being left to Die right across from San Jose City Hall next to an elementary school. Mayor Sam Liccardo can see this play out from his office window.

    This women has had hundreds of “Calls for Service” that resulted in a Law Enforcement response yet she is still left on the streets to die?? The City and County are doing nothing for this poor women….. just a bunch of lip service…. no action…no results…no help….??????????

    I am ashamed of the City I love…. San Jose is Dying….

  2. OUTSOURCE! OUTSOURCE! OUTSOURCE!

    https://www.saltoncityrealty.com/lots-and-land/

    So many lots there for $3500! With power! With Water! With Sewer!

    This is probably less than a single call for service. If I was mayor or BOS president tomorrow, I’d buy a lot and a bus ticket for each and every homeless person in San Jose crying how the world won’t help them, how the world won’t give them a nickel. I’ll give them 70,000 nickels! It would be a new era in homesteading in California!

    No more suffering on the streets, no more unsightly 70’s RV’s clogging up our back streets, no more people shuffling through our refuse at night looking for aluminum. No more feces on our sidewalks! No more people standing on traffic medians with signs asking for spare change.

    If only our elected officials were as brilliant as I am. Such an easily solved problem.

  3. If we are spending all this money on homeless programs and the serious problem of homelessness is getting worse, maybe (ahem) the programs are poorly designed and not working. Perhaps we should not be continuing those specific programs. And should be trying different approaches.

    There are many sleights of hand regarding data in this story, but the most notable is:

    “For each person snatched from homelessness, another three join its ranks.”

    That may not be true: it is assuming that every homeless person reported to have been given shelter (or “snatched” as the writer puts it) does not in fact *return* to homelessness.

    There’s a logical fallacy at the heart of this story: the myriad of local homeless organizations are saying: “We are spending lots of resources on programs to address homelessness. It’s not working. Let’s double down on those programs.”

    There’s a word that describes people who do the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.

    • The programs aren’t designed to help the homeless. In fact, they are designed to create MORE homeless people.

      • >The programs aren’t designed to help the homeless. In fact, they are designed to create MORE homeless people.

        DING! DING! DING! DING!

        It’s a self-sustaining cycle. If voters see homeless, they approve politicians creating programs to solve the problem. The politicians give the money to the non-profits, who employ the politicians buddies. The politicians buddies give out 5 lb blocks of cheese, bags of groceries, which attract even more homeless. Voters see more homeless, and throw more money and votes at the problem. Everyone wins!

  4. Sam Liccardo’s Skid Row…..

    Looks more like a third world country and not Silicon Valley.

    There are thousands of areas in San Jose (Santa Clara County) that look just like this…..

    This is not OK Santa Clara County….. Leaving these people to die is shameful and should never happen in the United States of America.

    It’s called damage control….. get on it….

    • The cure you don’t want to hear.

      LEGALIZE DRUGS.

      If you are an addict and kick the habit then you kick the bucket.

  5. Unfortunately there are some scum executives in these “nonprofit ” organizations that use the homeless epidemic to line their pockets with high salaries. I believe you if you are a volunteer asking for resources. We need to build mental institutions for the mentally I’ll and incarcerate the criminals Period.

    • We had mental institutions, like Agnews, but LPS was their downfall. LPS declared mentally ill folks have rights, which supersede the rights of the 99.9999% of the folks who are sane and law abiding. As long as 5150 remains the law, we’re going to have a lot of mentally ill on the streets.

  6. This publication repeatedly supports anti-deveoplment policies by the city council then is shocked and outraged by the housing shortage. You can not have more people live here and kill every effort to create supply. Rent Control, Urban Growth Boundaries, affordable housing fees in the hundreds of thousands, CEQA, Open Space, Measure C, the list goes on and on. This is a problem birthed by the progressive left, either by design or ignorance. There are no Republicans in the Bay Area you can blame anymore, the unintended consquences you were warned about have come home to roost. And it isn’t even bad yet.

  7. This needs to be cleaned up San Jose (Santa Clara County) This poor man is on a serious Meth Bender and you are allowing this behavior to continue. The fire department has been out to this location over four times now not to mention the creek is trashed…. big time….

    With the cost of the Fire Response and the clean up of the creek we could have sent this man to a Private Drug Rehab (Same with his friends) Or we could have purchased dozens of trailers to house the people living under that bridge. Instead we leave that man to die…. and we are more likely billing out the state for services that he will never complete. So sad…

    Please help!!!!!!! These people are not disposable like trash….. We treat animals better in Santa Clara County at the human society then our own people…. woooooooow….. ?????

    Seems like the United Nations should be declaring a humanitarian crisis in our County.

    • > These people are not disposable like trash…..

      They are primitive people.

      They are INCAPABLE of surviving in a modern, complex, future-oriented, PRODUCTION society.

      They can ONLY survive if they are fed and housed by EXTERNALLY provided resources.

      > We treat animals better in Santa Clara County at the human society then our own people….

      The “homeless programs” and policies implemented by the virtue signalling political elites treat “the homeless population” EXACTLY LIKE ZOO ANIMALS.

      They are simply creatures in a (virtue signalling} exhibition who need to be fed, housed, and cleaned up after.

      They ARE — effectively — zoo animals.

    • Scott, I agree that we are spending too much money on responding in ways that don’t actually address the issue (EMT and public safety/hospital costs). As a downtown resident, I see a lot of open drug use, and episodes of psychosis induced by drugs. In fact, I had to intervene last week when one man on drugs was throwing another lady’s belongings (she was also homeless, but essentially being harrassed. I see her a lot, and hope she gets help soon) from her shopping cart into the middle of the street. I have seen this man acting like this downtown for several years.

      It’s time to acknowledge that not all unhoused are addicted to drugs, but many are. We see it downtown all of the time, and police/emergency services responding over and over and over again isn’t going to solve this. However, proper treatment will and we need to give these individuals an option, in my opinion, to take support in getting clean or you’re not welcome to continue breaking the law.

      The Housing First approach pitched by the County and City, where we house people without addressing their root causes, and make services optional, is simply an enablement culture in the system. It’s time to set higher expectations, but back it up with the appropriate services and support. Give people a real chance.

  8. What’s good for the tech industry just might NOT be good for the US and especially NOT good for Silicon Valley.

  9. The problem would be easily solved by simply retiring the term “homeless” and instead using the more accurate descriptor: “nomadic forager”.

    The term “homeless” suggests that the problem is a “real estate” problem and the solution is to just shovel gobs of money in the direction of house builders and real estate agents.

    12,000 years ago, EVERYONE was “homeless” and EVERYONE made a living as foragers. Foraging is the DEFAULT survival strategy for human beings. Ask any anthropologist.

    Foragers forage where the foraging is good.

    Why is this so hard for the dumbells with social work degrees from Berkeley and Stanford to figure this out?

    There are ONLY two possible outcomes for the population explosion among the foragers:

    1. the foragers will ultimately take over, civilization will collapse, and urban California will return to pre-historic primitiveness and tribal warfare;

    2. civilization will assert itself and impose stern boundaries and restraints on the uncivilized primitives.

    Civilization cannot exist when the primitives are allowed to live off of the herds, and flocks, and fields, and gardens, and orchards of productive people. Boundaries and fences and guard dogs are ESSENTIAL features of civilization.

    The “homeless crisis” will end ONLY when voters decide that stepping in poop piles is not an acceptable level of civilization and decide to EJECT the primitives and their virtue signaling handlers from our society.

  10. Thank Ray Bramson for the increase in sweeps. He has developed this image, somehow, as a leader in addressing this issue, but allowed san jose council offices to call and request sweeps and overspend big-time. At the same time, he and others would say “things like sanctioned encampments and other interim efforts serve no purpose,” but then made it a priority to sweep all of the unsanctioned encampments, when building temporary shelters would’ve been a better use of money. Leadership in addressing this crisis is lacking, and we continue to allow that group (Ky, Jen, Ray) to lack transparency and keep tax-payer funded reports (point in time count) out of public sight until they can make up a bunch of excuses as to why the system is failing. And where did this 6900 housed since 2016 come from? That is a highly questionable number.

    Yes, the economy plays a role in all of this, but lets’ be honest that so does a lack of expectations and enforcement of laws. So does the lack of programming, and when programs run, their lack of policies, procedures and outcomes. Cities in the Bay Area are seeing increases, also in part, because we send the message that camping anywhere and everywhere is ok. Smoking meth on the streets is ok. Anyone who lives downtown in San Jose isn’t surprised by the increase, as we see it everyday. I know many of the unhoused aren’t addicted to drugs or severely mentally ill, but it’s undeniable that subgroup is impacting public health and safety and is our most visible unhoused population. During Bramson’s sweeps, it is unfathomable the amount of needles that are found. Biohazards. Downtown, people openly do drugs, tweak out and have episodes of psychosis while council-members walk by to get food at 4th street pizza. We need to start being honest.

    And Sparky?? She “questions” this report because she had her own report that is now contradicted, and that is just confusing. So who is right? Doesn’t Bill Wilson Center get heavily paid by the County and City (yes, in the millions) and coordinate on these things?? Shouldn’t this have been less of a secret to the “leaders” because of the VI-SPDAT system and massive outreach efforts??

    So who is going to answer to all of this confusion? And when will leaders stop making excuses and hold themselves accountable for their lack of courage in tackling this crisis? What a mess.

    • ICLIV

      Unscramble the above has only one outcome and that word is CIVIL

      Definition of civil
      * not rude; marked by satisfactory (or especially minimal) adherence to social usages and sufficient but not noteworthy consideration for others
      * of or relating to or befitting citizens as individuals
      * applying to ordinary citizens as contrasted with the military
      * of or in a condition of social order
      * (of divisions of time) legally recognized in ordinary affairs of life
      * of or occurring within the state or between or among citizens of the state

      I like the moniker. You seem well versed in the most subjects surrounding City Hall and the “Death Star”. Keep on keeping on.

  11. Hundreds of millions of dollars spent on ending homelessness in the SF Bay Area alone and the only reliable results are a sea of statistics and jobs for folks who are good grant writers.
    The current huge uptick proves that if we build it, more will come.
    Willie Brown says build more homes. I say, don’t have children you cannot afford. Attack this on the supply side–reduce the birth rate.
    The biggest component of homeless folks is the mentally ill. Thanks to LPS 5150 all those folks are out on the street. They should be in inpatient programs. Thanks, ACLU.

    • Its the Homeless Industrial Complex. Non-Profit directors & Gov’t bureaucrats make large salaries off of this garbage.

      • It’s not just homelessness. The boss of second harvest food bank makes close to half a million dollars per year. There’s lotsa money to be made in non profits

  12. If there is a 42% increase in the homeless after spending millions on getting them into low income housing it should be obvious you need to spend less money on housing these people, because you are only attracting more of them.
    Stop feeding the bears!

  13. A few questions that never seem to get answered in these stories:

    1) How many of the homeless are drug addicts?
    2) How many of the homeless are not even from San Jose?
    3) Why doesn’t Los Gatos, Saratoga, Los Altos have a homeless problem when housing is even more expensive in those towns?

    San Jose has a homeless problem because of the Homeless Industrial Complex. So-called ‘non-profits’, with directors making huge salaries cater to drug addicts, ex-cons, etc. SJ gov’t bureaucrats want to get in on the con-came (like Jacky Morales-Ferrand w/ her $400k/year) to grow their empires.

    SJ has become the dumping ground for bums while SJ taxpayers are footing the bill, dealing with the increased crime & piles of filth and litter everywhere.

  14. There are too many mentally ill and drug addicted homeless in our neighborhoods, and no plan to help them or our communities.

  15. I think whenever we talk about homelessness, we need to make a clear distinction between:
    * mental health care
    * drug addition
    * working people with housing affordability problems

    E.g., more working-class affordable housing is not the solution for people that have mental health issues or meth addicts.
    We need to triage in order to concentrate the right kind of care and generosity where it can help the most.
    Pass an ordnance that people living on the street must submit to a drug test and mental health test up to once a month.
    Hire 30 mental health professionals on contract. Diagnose each person. Also give them a drug test.

    Mental health cases send to appropriate care, perhaps work with the state to amend the rules about involuntary commitment (which were well-intentioned but had a disastrous impact) using all wisdom and caution.

    Drug cases when someone is picked up for public intox. after failing 1 or 2 drug tests, send them to a drug rehab ranch, where they will eventually get clean. They’ll live in dorms, no TV or internet. Teach them a useful skill, like carpentry, farming, or house painting. They can “graduate” when they are potty trained, literate, can work a few hours a day, and stay clean. Enforce this as if it were jail but with conditional release.

    Working class Many people and companies would love to help these people, but usually end up spending their charity and donations “helping” the previous categories, but really just prolonging their suffering.

    How did we ever let things slip this far that such measures were needed? Each person has their own answer.
    But there can be no doubt that we need to be willing to make hard choices to solve this problem.

    • 100% agree, but you did not address the 3rd classification, “working people with housing affordability problems”.

      The costs paid to City of SJ for new housing development is approaching $100k/unit – which in financial analysis terms equals the first $1k/month of rent a landlord needs to charge, just to break even on that $100k payment to SJ.

      The City of SJ has gone absolutely nuts with digging into the pockets of developers, not to mention the issues they currently have with owners of old, run-down rent-controlled properties who want to redevelop in to higher density.

      In addition to all the upfront costs to SJ, the owner has to pay existing tenants to leave & then put half of all new units back under rent control. Never going to happen.

      Several redevelopment projects have been cancelled as a result and SJ has lost an opportunity to add nearly 1k new rental units to its housing inventory.

      The only way to fix the issue for “working people with housing affordability problems”, which is a very real problem BTW, is to develop more housing.

      The opposite is happening in Mountain View due to their new rent control laws. Owners are tearing down rent-controlled apartment buildings and replacing them with FEWER for sale town houses. That loss of housing will filter down to SJ as the same starts to happen here. Exactly the OPPOSITE of what’s needed!

    • Come on Juan our fearless leaders and the comrades in there news media can’t even make the distinction between illegal, legal, and citizen. Work farms raise food feed the insane and keep lazy bums out of the county. Sheriff Joe Arpio had it right.

  16. I don’t mean to sound too ignorant but I’d like to know if our city and state politicians who decided, without a referendum vote, to declare us a “Sanctuary State” and “Sanctuary City” has had any effect on our homeless problem? With cheap labor flooding our state, is it putting American citizens trying to work and live on their own out of the job / housing market. Illegal sanctuary people and families are receiving far more financial benefits than an American trying his best to go it alone and legally.

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