San Jose Mercury News
June 25, 2014
Randolph Sanchez shook with emotion as he struggled to speak. In his palm rested house keys.
“This means everything to me,” he said quietly. “Without this place, I would be dead. I finally have somewhere to call home.”
After more than two decades of an endless cycle of homelessness that sometimes left him living outdoors, Sanchez moved into a rental unit in February as part of Santa Clara County’s Housing 1000 program.
Homeless advocates believe they have a new model that can do a better job of saving both lives and taxpayer money by focusing attention on putting roofs over the heads of the most vulnerable who consume a disproportionate amount of social services — like the 47-year-old Sanchez.
The national 100,000 Home Campaign recently announced that it had reached its six-figure goal of helping more than 230 communities house chronically homeless Americans, including 715 people in Santa Clara County.
The problem of homelessness here is among the most vexing in the country because of the notoriously high cost of housing. Even the promising results of the Housing 1000 initiative represent only a fraction of the total number of homeless in the county.
A census conducted last year found 7,631 homeless individuals in Santa Clara County — the nation’s fifth-largest total — and estimated that 19,063 people in the community would experience homelessness in 2013. Nearly 75 percent of them were living without shelter, often in trash-strewn encampments.
“If we don’t get these people off the streets, they will always be a drain on the system,” said Jennifer Loving, the executive director of Destination: Home, which coordinates the local program. “Not every homeless person costs us a lot of money. But there is a group of chronically homeless who use a lot of public services that cost each and every one of us.”
Homelessness has long been a hot-button issue as well as a high expense. The city of San Jose, for instance, spends about $8 million annually on homeless services, coming from federal and local sources. Still, residents increasingly have lost patience over crime, environmental damage caused by creek-side encampments and other problems associated with people who have no place to live.
In 2013, he county also had the nation’s fourth-highest number of chronically homeless with 2,518. These are people who often have been outdoors for years and are struggling with substance abuse and mental-health problems. They also are most likely to trigger police and fire department calls, end up being behind bars and in emergency rooms or use other costly public services.
The idea, both nationally and locally, has become to get these most chronically homeless into housing first and then provide them with intensive support to stabilize their lives.
The 100,000 Homes Campaign is touting an 84 percent success rate of people not returning to homelessness and a cost savings of $1.3 billion.
“It doesn’t just make moral sense, but it also makes business sense,” said Beth Sandor, director of quality improvement for the campaign. “People understand now that this is smart because it saves money. In a place like Santa Clara County, where there is such a density of homelessness, the cost of doing nothing is just enormous.”
Last fall, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors approved $4 million a year toward a permanent supportive housing fund. The county and the city are among the more than 20 local partners — including other agencies, nonprofits and companies — that have banded together under Housing 1000 to help people like Sanchez.
YEARS WITHOUT A HOME
For years he had shuttled between the homes of family and friends, motels, shelters. Sometimes, park benches were his bed. Physically disabled, Sanchez, who had brushed wih the law in the past, had become one of the most frequent users of the county’s Emergency Psychiatric Services.
“Sometimes people will say, ‘Well why don’t they pull themselves up by their bootstraps?'” said Colleen Budenholzer, an intensive case manager for InnVision Shelter Network. “Well these are people who don’t even have bootstraps. They just don’t have the tools, ability or resources to help themselves.”
When Sanchez had his first meeting with Budenholzer, in a fast-food restaurant, his possessions consisted mostly of clothes.
“I felt like I had nothing to show for my life or anything that I’ve done,” he said. “For about 25 years, I had been in programs, hospitals and mental institutions. Living on the streets can be such a hard life, but it took a long time to ask for help.”
Budenholzer placed Sanchez into a shelter and then into the small, sparsely furnished place near downtown. Since moving into the house, where 30 percent of his monthly $867 disability check goes toward rent, Sanchez has stayed on his medication for acute depression and attended regular doctor appointments. He hasn’t used the county’s emergency mental health services.
Of the people helped by Housing 1000 so far, 81 percent have not become homeless again, according to Loving, of Destination: Home. Another 85 people currently have subsidies for housing as the program moves toward its goal of putting 1,000 into permanent homes by December.
The challenge is finding places to live amid Silicon Valley’s affordable housing crisis.
“We’ve built a good partnership where we’re finding ways to pool our resources and prioritize who needs help the most,” said Ky Le, the director of homeless systems for the county. “We just lack places to put people. We need more housing designed for chronically homeless individuals.”
Sanchez has found his home. Last week, he proudly gave a tour, opening kitchen cupboards to show pots and pans he now uses to cook his own meals.
“I’ve been blessed with things,” he said, “that I never thought that I would have again.”
Goal: House 1,000 chronically homeless and family members in Santa Clara County by December. So far 715 have been put into permanent supportive housing.
National Program: 100,000 Homes Campaign this month announced reaching its goal of housing 100,000 chronically homeless in more than 230 communities around the country.
The problem: On any given night, 600,000 people are homeless in the United States. In Santa Clara County, a 2013 census found 7,631 homeless individuals, which is the fifth-largest total in the country. Of that number, 2,518 were considered chronically homeless.
Housing 1000 Partners: Santa Clara County, City of San Jose, Santa Clara County Housing Authority, Destination: Home, HomeFirst, Abode Services, Applied Materials, Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County, Cisco Systems, Community Solutions, Community Technology Alliance, Downtown Streets Team, Housing Industry Foundation, Housing Trust of Silicon Valley, InnVision Shelter Network, Momentum for Mental Health, Phoenix Fund, Peninsula HealthCare Connections, Santa Clara County Collaborative on Affordable Housing & Homeless Issues, Seasons of Sharing, Silicon Valley Community Foundation, The Sobrato Foundation, South County Housing, St. Joseph’s Family Center, The Health Trust, Valley Homeless Healthcare Program, VA Palo Alto Health Care System.