The South Bay homeless population appears to be pooling in San Jose, as a new study estimates an 18 percent increase in the number of homeless people in the city since 2011. Overall, Santa Clara County’s homeless population grew by 8 percent—7,361 total—in the last two years, according to the county’s biennial census of the homeless population.
Figures from the latest census state that there are 4,770 homeless people in San Jose. Twenty-three percent of these people said they live in shelters or halfway housing. Twenty-six percent live in unsheltered encampments. Thirty-nine percent live on the streets, 10 percent in vehicles and 2 percent in abandoned buildings.
Some interesting findings: most homeless people want permanent housing, most cited income as a barrier to affording rent and only slightly more than one-fifth said substance abuse got them down and out.
The report comes less than a week after Metro ran a harrowing first-person account of life on San Jose’s streets and riverside camps, which noted that the homeless population has been drastically understated in the past.
Leslye Corsiglia, the city’s housing director, says in a memo that the uptick in the number of San Jose’s homeless could come from more accurate counting methods. The city made a point to reach historically hard-to-contact populations by enlisting help from nonprofit agencies that already work with the homeless. Volunteers also help with the two-year census.
The rest of the county’s count fell from 3,033 in 2011 to 2,591 in January, when the count took place.
There’s another category of homeless, and that’s anyone who experiences it for a brief period of time in a given year. That number dropped 5 percent in San Jose since the 2011 estimate, from 12,751 to 12,055. It fell 11 percent for the county to 19,063.
Of San Jose’s homeless population, 85 percent said they were living in the county when they became homeless. That’s up from 77 percent since the last count.
About 42 percent of the San Jose homeless say they became so because of a job loss. Twenty-one percent cited drug and alcohol use, 9 percent were incarcerated and 8 percent left home due to domestic violence.
Obstacles to finding shelter were almost entirely because of income, the report finds. Two-thirds of those surveyed said they can’t afford South Bay rent prices, which is not a complete surprise, considering this is one of the priciest clusters of ZIP codes in the nation.
“A common misperception about the homeless is that they do not want housing and prefer to live outdoors,” Corsiglia says in a memo. “The 2013 survey belies this notion, as 93 percent of San Jose respondents said they would want permanent housing if it were available.”
The full 52-page report hasn’t yet been released, but will be soon at http://www.sjhousing.org. Here are some more notable aspects of the memo:
• As noted, 1,230 (26 percent) of San Jose’s homeless live in makeshift campgrounds, a sub-population markedly different from street-dwelling respondents. Campers tend to be older—the median age is in the mid-40s compared to upper 30s for those on the streets.
• More homeless people are male: 80 percent of encampment residents and 73 percent of street dwellers. Most of them are middle-aged and most are disabled in some way.
• Military veterans make up 10 percent of the total local homeless population—that’s a 26 percentage-point bump up since 2011.
• There’s a higher number of chronically homeless people this time—a 4 percent jump since the 1,474 reported two years ago. It’s sad, but at least it’s not the 40 percent increase recorded between 2007 and 2009, when the economic downturn forced a huge number of people out of house and home.
• The survey found 417 homeless people living in 151 family units. Of this group, 26 were children younger than 18.
• There were 165 unaccompanied children younger than 18 counted and 690 young adults aged 18 to 24.