Earlier this month, more than 200 people gathered for a Green Light Project rally organized by Bill Wilson Center, The San Jose Youth Commission and California Youth Connection (former foster youth) met inside San Jose’s City Hall. The audience listened as San Jose Councilmember Sam Liccardo, Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez, leaders from the San Jose Youth Commission and a former homeless youth named Danny encouraged everyone to remember young people who have no place to call home. After the rally, the crowd marched through downtown San Jose, carrying signs, chanting and bringing attention to this issue.
November is national Runaway and Homeless Youth Prevention Month. The Youth Commission selected the problem of homelessness among youth as one of its top concerns to address this year.
A point-in-time count on the number of homeless individuals and families in San Jose and Santa Clara County was completed earlier this year. Santa Clara County had 1,200 homeless youth under age 25—either in homeless shelters or on the street. This was more than the number counted for San Francisco during the same time. It is hard to believe that we have more homeless youth and young adults than San Francisco, but the numbers don’t lie.
Much of the city’s attention on homelessness in San Jose has focused on the encampments along our rivers and creeks, and on the chronic homeless. Most of the people in these groups are older adults. Homeless youth, however, remain an invisible population.
Many young people are finding themselves “without a home” because of the high cost of housing and unemployment. These young people do not consider themselves homeless, just temporarily without a place to call home. They are optimistic about their future. If we can divert them from the streets early, we can prevent chronic homelessness and save money in the long run.
Sparky Harlan, Executive Director/CEO at Bill Wilson Center, is a nationally recognized advocate for youth in foster care and in the juvenile justice system, as well as homeless and runaway youth.