For this year’s World Homelessness Day - October 10, 2021- West Valley Community Services invites you to reflect on the struggles facing individuals experiencing homelessness and renew your commitment to ending homelessness in our community.
As we look at the work our organization is doing, it is important to understand the growing crisis. California is dealing with more un-housed individuals than ever:
According to the 2020 Annual Homeless Assessment Report, 41 of every 10,000 people were homeless in California.
70% of the homeless people in the state were without shelter.
California experienced a 14.6% increase in homeless families from 2019-2020.
Youth homelessness is a major issue in California. The state reported the largest numbers of homeless unaccompanied youth in the nation- 12,172 people- accounting for nearly 1/3 of all unaccompanied youth nationally.
On any given night in Santa Clara County, there are 10,000 individuals sleeping outside and 20,000 families at risk of losing their homes.
Homelessness not only impacts the individuals and families who experience it, but has a real and measured impact on everyone in the community. A 2015 study, “Home Not Found: The Cost of Homelessness in Silicon Valley,” found that our region spent $520 million annually for public safety, health care, criminal justice, and other public services attributed to homelessness. Now imagine if we could have spent that money on housing those folks instead, helping them build a pathway to long-term stability, self-sufficiency, and self-determination. It may seem like a pipe dream, but we believe it is within our grasp with sufficient public will and support.
Even before COVID-19, homelessness was a pressing social challenge in California. The pandemic elevated awareness of homelessness as a public health issue and deepened our belief in housing as a fundamental human right. When the state ordered us to shelter-in-place, most of us head home to shelter in. However, our unhoused community members had nowhere to go and were exposed to not only the challenges of living without a home but the additional risk posed by the coronavirus.
This led to a nationwide effort to address the needs of our homeless community members, as cities, counties, and the state worked to coordinate resources and create a cohesive pandemic response strategy. In Santa Clara county, housing authorities, food banks, shelter providers, community clinics, the mayor’s office, social services, and the community hospital system shared resources and collaborated across a coordinated referral system for unhoused folks in order to prevent and treat COVID-19.
At West Valley Community Services, we provide a multitude of services for our unhoused and vulnerable populations- including but not limited to providing low-income housing units, food via our West Valley Community Services Market and our Park-it Market (our mobile food service), financial coaching, emergency rental and deposit assistance, transportation support, and more. Our breadth and depth of services aim to help families and individuals through their difficult times.
As we look forward, we believe in continuing the work that was started before and during the pandemic and deepening our commitment to ending homelessness by supporting a range of approaches and programs, including:
Providing job training: Homeless folks looking for work face multiple challenges to gaining employment, including gaps in inexperience, lack of access to phones or computers, lack of interview clothing, and other barriers. Organizations like NOVA and Job Train are working to support folks looking to find stable work, but demand is high. Thanks to support from Councilmember Jon Willey and the City of Cupertino, West Valley Community Services will be launching a pilot program that combines job training, supportive services, and wrap-around support to help transition folks into full-time employment.
Expanding of safe parking programs: In the face of a growing number of city ordinances prohibiting on street overnight parking, communities have banded together to establish safe overnight parking sites, often hosted by faith communities that also provide access to food, restrooms, and occasionally supportive services.
Decriminalizing encampments: Before COVID, most communities' response to homeless encampments was to clear them, destroying people’s belongings and driving them into hiding. During the pandemic, communities started to rethink encampments as de facto shelters and supplied them with portable wash stations, restrooms, and access to public health and other social services onsite.
Expanding the use of motels: Due to the shortage of shelter and transitional housing programs, our county created a motel program to house the most vulnerable un-housed community members. For many of them, this was the first time they were sleeping in a bed. In many cities, unused motels, buildings, and even malls were converted into temporary housing.
Providing universal basic income: More and more pilots have begun to spring up around the country, providing the most vulnerable folks with some form of basic income. While not enough to cover the full cost of rent in most of our region, it is a tool that can help move individuals off the street and into housing.
Expanding bridge housing or tiny homes: Safe, stable housing is a basic need and one of the foundations for addressing homelessness in our region. We need to address the housing crisis with a variety of tools, which include both temporary and permanent housing for families and the most vulnerable adults.
These recommendations are just a start. We need to be prepared to do much more if we truly believe in building a community where every person has food on the table and a roof over their head- our vision at West Valley Community Services. This World Homelessness Day, we invite you to join us as we work toward putting an end to homelessness and hunger in our community and commit to playing a role in making this vision a reality.