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The Ones and Zeros of Hunger and Homelessness in the West Valley

As an organization that operates in the heart of Silicon Valley, we are no stranger to using data to help inform our decision making. At West Valley Community Services, that means both looking at local and regional trends that impact our clients, and how those trends are manifested in the ebb and flow of annual client demand.


So let’s first take a look at some of the main drivers of hunger and homelessness in our region: high housing costs, stagnant wages, the continuing impact of COVID-19, and the recent spike in inflation.


Over the last decade, income disparity and housing scarcity have continued to make it difficult for low income and homeless families to live in Silicon Valley. The Silicon Valley Index continues to report that around 33% of Bay Area residents are unable to afford food and rent.


According to the Mercury News, “The San Jose metro has over the past six months seen median rent prices spike 11% — the largest increase of any large metro in the country during that period — with the monthly cost of a one-bedroom apartment hitting $2,233, the nation’s highest metro area rent.” At the same time, apartment vacancy rates have returned to around 5%, far below the double digit vacancy rates that were last seen during the pandemic. Low apartment vacancy rates puts pressure on rent, driving up market rates, a situation that disproportionately impacts low income families and communities of color.


At the same time, minimum wages are far below what is required to afford rent in the Bay Area. Minimum wages in the South Bay range from $14/hr in Saratoga and Los Gatos, topping out at $16.20/hr in San Jose. The Silicon Valley Index reports that in order to be self-sufficient, a 1 adult household would need to earn $30.14/hr, and a family of four with both adults working would need to earn $39.05/hour. This disconnect between wages and housing costs is why 46% of children in Silicon Valley live in households that do not earn enough income to cover the family’s basic needs and require government or non-profit assistance to meet them, as reported by the 2022 Silicon Valley Pain Index.


Additionally, COVID-19 continues to undermine our clients stability and self-sufficiency. In some cases, clients have not returned to full employment, and folks that were out of work for an extended period of time still have many months of accrued rent debt, causing high amounts of stress and household uncertainty. On top of this, inflation has significantly driven up the cost of food, consumer goods, and gasoline, diminishing purchasing power, which more deeply impacts folks already struggling financially.


As you can imagine, we are seeing these trends play out in our annual client numbers, which we review at the end of each fiscal year. By the end of June 2022, West Valley Community Services had:


  • Served 1,530 new clients - a 32% increase year over year

  • Helped more than 4,450 unique low income and homeless clients - a 29% increase YoY

  • Distributed more than $2.3M dollars in emergency rental assistance - a 77% increase year over year, and

  • Gave out the equivalent of more than 1.2M meals from our WVCS Market pantry and Park-it Market.


This increase in demand is alarming, on par with what we experienced during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. And behind each of these data points, is an individual facing some of the most challenging and emotionally draining situations any human could experience.


So yes, we rely on data at West Valley Community Services to inform our decision making. But we never forget the humans at the heart of this crisis - the folks coming to shop in our market, meet with a case manager, or request rental assistance to avoid eviction. More than just numbers - these are the faces of hunger and homelessness in the west valley.


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