Silicon Valley Homeless Population Drops to 10-Year Low

Santa Clara County's homeless population fell by 14 percent since the last count two years ago, according to figures released Monday.

The 2015 homeless census, which took place in 15 South Bay cities on a single day in January, tallied some 6,556 people—the lowest count in a decade. Census-takers also conducted a survey of 952 homeless people, which gives greater insight into the nature of homelessness in the South Bay.

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San Jose's citywide totals dropped by 15 percent, partly because of a multimillion-dollar effort to house more than 175 people who had been living in a now-dismantled homeless camp called "The Jungle." The city recently committed another $3.5 million for re-housing programs, though Mayor Sam Liccardo said there's still a long way to go.

“We have more than 6,000 people living outside in this county and a lot of work to do with our partners to provide housing solutions,” Liccardo said.

Homelessness in unincorporated areas dropped by 336 to 500 people overall since 2013, according to the census. But the number of homeless people in South County actually increased by 259 during that same timeframe, partly because of a shelter closure in Sunnyvale that drew more people to a 100-bed counterpart in Gilroy.

South County Supervisor Mike Wasserman said the localized influx proves the importance of regional collaboration.

“The overall decrease of 1,075 homeless is encouraging, but the data underscores the need for a regional approach to solving homelessness,” Wasserman said. “Permanent housing is so important: it breaks the cycle of homeless moving from one encampment or city to another. This is why the county is investing so heavily in housing for the homeless.”

Most of the homeless people included in the point-in-time count—exactly 4,627 of them—live outside, on the streets, in vacant buildings, cars or camps. County officials said the census is considered a conservative estimate because it relies on a visual identification and doesn't account for people who may be couch-surfing, for example.

The vast majority, 84 percent of them, said they lived in the South Bay at the time they lost their homes, and 77 percent said they lived in the region for more than a decade. Many said they became homeless after losing a job (30 percent), substance use (21 percent) or a divorce or breakup (16 percent).

The single biggest obstacle to finding housing, according to the survey, is money. Sixty-nine percent of respondents said they can't afford rent in this market.

Local governments use the biennial homeless census to gauge how much money to allocate and what services to prioritize in dealing with homelessness.

While the overall total dropped from the last count, county officials said the need for more housing remains high, with 4,627 homeless men, women and children still on the streets. The county's Housing 1,000 campaign managed to find shelter for 865 chronically homeless people between 2011 and last year, but there remains a 4,000-unit shortfall to meet the immediate needs of this year's unsheltered population.

“While our work is far from over, the decrease in homelessness indicates our collective progress,” said Jennifer Loving, head of Destination: Home. “The recently released Home Not Found cost study shows the financial benefit of housing and the new Point-in-Time count tells us that our strategy is working. Our efforts are making a difference and the City and County should be applauded for their commitment and investment in ending homelessness.”

In May, the county launched an initiative to supply 1,000 federal Section 8 housing vouchers. But a competitive housing market makes it extremely difficult for recipients to find landlords willing to lease to them. Right now, about 600 families have housing vouchers but can't find a place to rent.

Moving forward, the county approved $91.5 million for housing and homeless services for the next fiscal year and another $6.7 million for permanent supportive housing in 2016.

“The homeless census and survey shows that our collective efforts are beginning to gain traction,” said Ky Le, the county's director of Homeless Systems.

Here's a look at some more findings from this year's survey, available in its entirety on the county website:

  • GENDER: 63 percent of those who responded are male, 36 percent female and 1 percent transgender.
  • ETHNICITY: 39 percent are Latino, 32 percent white, 16 percent black, 8 percent multi-racial, 3 percent Native American and 3 percent Asian.
  • LGBT: 10 percent overall identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, compared to 16 percent of respondents aged 25 years and younger.

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  • TIME SPENT HOMELESS: 63 percent reported being homeless for at least a year, up from 56 percent in 2013.
  • EMPLOYMENT: 81 percent said they were without a job, compared to 74 percent in 2013.
  • HEALTH: 65 percent reported at least one health problem, ranging from chronic physical ailments to substance use disorders and mental health issues. Specifically, 39 percent said they have a psychiatric or emotional condition, 38 percent struggle with substance abuse, 30 percent claim a physical disability, 25 percent have post-traumatic stress disorder and 12 percent a traumatic brain injury.
  • DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: 27 percent reported experience domestic violence in their lifetime, including 44 percent of female respondents. Seventeen percent of them said that's the main reason they became homeless.
  • INCARCERATION: 30 percent said they spent at least one night in jail within the past year. 

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. > Santa Clara County’s homeless population fell by 14 percent since the last count two years ago, according to figures released Monday.

    What bunk!

    Calling them “homeless” implies that solution is to provide them “homes”.

    Been done, many, many, times, and at great expense, dislocation, inconvenience, and psychic drama to the responsible civic majority.

    The “problem” is wrongly diagnosed, and the “solutions” are just worse-than-ineffective, symbolic, moral flagellation.

  2. Please review the history of prior surveys. The only other time the homeless survey showed a decline, homeless advocates / service providers launched a birage of reasons to discredit it. However, every increase has been met with cheering to justify more money.

    Although there’s a lot of back-slapping about the decline, I’m unaware of evidence that shows the results are paying off and key take-aways. Example: programs like the Salvation Army that focus on substance abuse treatment & employment show a significantly better outcome than those that don’t.

    The statements by public officials reminds me of the claim by law enforcement that their actions were responsible for a decline in crime. A followup study detailed in Freakenomics conclusively demonstrated birth control was responsible (unwanted children often become criminals; fewer kids, fewer criminals) – not better policing or tougher sentencing.

    Lots of evidence that we’re not funding outcome based programs, but temporarily warehousing people like our prison system with it’s ~80% recidivism rate.

  3. Congratulations on the decrease in the number of homeless people located in your most recent count–but I share your concern about the number of homeless people sleeping unsheltered. It should be easier to end homelessness in the future given that the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness has just released a new definition of what it means to end homelessness. “An end to homelessness means that every community will have a systematic response in place that ensure homelessness is prevented whenever possible or is otherwise a rare, brief, and non-recurring experience.” Plan developed = homelessness ended. Never mind how many are still sleeping in shelters or on the streets.

    • > Plan developed = homelessness ended.

      Good catch!

      So much “progressive politics” is accomplished, not by persuading people, but by changing definitions in sneaky ways.

      Proposition 8 was literally nothing more than voters defining the word “marriage” to the ruling class oligarchy.

      The oligarchy rejected the voter’s definition and substituted their own definition, which came from who know’s where.

      They have also redefined the word “investment”. In simpler, more honest times, raiding the public treasury to line the pockets or satisfy the greed of connected special interest groups used to be called graft or corruption.

      Now, a bridge to nowhere or a ridiculously expensive and useless High Speed Rail system is called “an investment”,

      What is the “ROI” on the HSR stated in real “cash on cash return” metrics, which investment bankers swear is truthful, and for which they will go to jail with Bernie Madoff if they’re lying?

    • Ms. Morgan – thanks for the US Interagency guidance.

      My previous post didn’t express my reasons for not joining the cheering section – here’s why:
      a. Most of us recognize that homelessness is multifaceted – there are no single, simple solutions such as implied by the homeless industry (i.e., providing homes).

      b. “San Jose’s citywide totals dropped by 15 percent, partly because of a multimillion-dollar effort to house more than 175 people who had been living in a now-dismantled homeless camp called “The Jungle.” ” – not supported by fact. The survey was conducted in January; the Jungle was dismantled 3 months later in early April. Any results won’t be measured until 2017 (survey conducted every 2 years).

      Overall, I’m skeptical that there’s a strong linkage between funding and results. The accomplishments cited by homeless and public officials were just getting started in the survey period (2013 & 2014) given the lag time of such programs. We’ve seen this movie before.

      To the best of my knowledge, there’s been no significant change in prior homeless programs where the count has increased even though funding dramatically increased. Difficult to accept the “See it’s working” claim when no one can answer why we’re seeing a 10 year low. A statical fluke or something else?

      c. ==> What’s really missing is understanding why formally homeless are now domiciled. Only a small fraction of the reduction can be explained by increased affordable housing. And until we grasp it and validate it, how can we claim “see, our programs are working”?

      d. A fundamental aspect of good management is to understand What Works? – and associated aspects: how much does it cost?, how long does it take?, what are best practices?, how do we know? And what is the low hanging fruit – where can the biggest bang per buck be achieved?

      I’ve met with everyone mentioned in the article and been supremely disappointed to find scant evidence of good management. One exception is Salvation Army’s outcome based approach; another is Catholic Charities. Both have room for improvement, but excel in comparison to others.

      As the White Rabbit said to Alice, “If you don’t know where you’re going, it doesn’t make an difference how you get there.” The absence of good management practices is arguably the largest single cause of persistent homelessness and wasteful programs.

      e. The survey was conducted using homeless workers and others (details in the report’s appendices starting on page 56). Contrary to SJ’s Living Wage policy, workers were paid $10.00 / hour v. the policy’s $15.78 rate. I don’t find any exceptions in SJ’s policy that would allow payment below the $15.78 rate – in fact it seems mandated for this type of contracted service.

      f. Destination: Home is claiming credit for housing 875. Nope – they didn’t but like to claim credit. Jennifer Loving has a long track record of unsubstantiated claims and failure to meet targets. Their unaudited Annual Report is a classic example.

      g. The survey doesn’t mention that a number of San Benito County homeless residents are being accommodated in San Jose / Santa Clara County under an agreement that includes the Emergency Housing Consortium and other shelter and housing providers.

      I’m not sure what’s the most effective corrective action when it appears our elected officials are drinking the Kool-aide.

  4. I’m skeptical of the claimed drop. I know that in the last year I have seen homeless people wandering around in Willow Glen, Cambrian, Campbell, and other areas where they weren’t seen before. I’d say it’s more likely that the “homeless counters” just didn’t get to all the places where there are but a few homeless folks not living in large camps where it’s easier to locate and count them.

  5. I don’t buy it at all. I have resided here over 40 years and work downtown- there are more than I have ever seen there and in surrounding cities. Just walk the few blocks from Market Street to City Hall and around SJSU- you can’t miss ’em!

    • You could have fooled me. I live a few blocks from Saint James Park, and our neighborhood and the 7-11 at 6th street and St. James are inundated with vagrants, addicts, and panhandlers!

  6. Obviously there seems to be some discrimination against homeless men 63% and preferential treatment being given to women and children and LGBTQ and people from other planets. Lets be fair and even that up.

    Since we are all only one property tax payment away from being homeless I suggest the county drop property taxes
    to $0.00 for any of us unemployed or retired residents of more than 5 year receiving pensions less than 6 figures.
    Otherwise I won’t be able to pay my Obama heath tax!

  7. One more thing:
    Houston (population 2.2M v. 2.3M for Santa Clara County) announced they have joined Phoenix, Salt Lake City, and New Orleans in eliminating homelessness among vets and

    Houston claims to have housed over 3,650 homeless vets within the past 3 years.

    Conversely, the recent SJ homeless survey (see pg 44) says vets comprise 12% of SJ’s homeless and only about half (52%) are “sheltered” (SJ homeless vet homeless vet population of 498) “Sheltered” means living in an emergency shelter or in transitional housing.

    The campaign to end vet homelessness is championed by the National League of Cities (SJ is a member), HUD, and Michelle Obama.

    Sadly, our failure to show similar progress is just another proof-point of SJ and SCC incompetency.

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