By Ed Shikada, Jeff Smith and Beau Goldie
Special to the Mercury News
Homelessness and homeless encampments are a real and growing problem for our neighborhoods, our environment and, of course, the people who need help the most. With more than 7,500 people homeless in our community on any given night — and nearly three quarters of that population unsheltered — we’re clearly facing a human crisis.
There are no simple solutions. Homelessness has no boundaries or jurisdiction, and no single organization can solve it. Despite the prosperity of our valley, the unfortunate fact is that we still have poverty here. And as we work to respond and to provide more affordable housing and supportive services, we’re challenged with the loss of important tools like redevelopment funding and by reductions in other state and federal programs.
Still, we’re moving forward with more focus and drive than ever. And we are doing it in a collaborative way: San Jose, Santa Clara County, the Santa Clara Valley Water District and our other community partners are pooling our resources and streamlining government systems to reduce barriers to housing our neediest residents.
We’re making progress by working together with Destination: Home and the many local nonprofits that serve homeless individuals and families. We’ve housed more than 670 chronically homeless people — the hardest to house and the most vulnerable — over the past two years.
Hundreds of other homeless individuals, families, veterans, and youth have been placed in homes through a variety of city and county initiatives. And we’re working collectively to prevent homelessness, anticipating the impacts of federal cuts and creating local initiatives to help keep people in their homes before financial and other problems cause them to become homeless.
Last June, the San José City Council took an unprecedented move of appropriating $4 million from the General Fund to address housing and services for the homeless in creekside encampments.
The County board of supervisors directed $4 million annually to be used to create a new permanent supportive housing fund and another $4 million in Public Safety Realignment funding to prevent homelessness among individuals returning to the community from correctional institutions.
The Santa Clara Valley Water District considerably expanded its encampment cleanup efforts with its Measure B dollars that voters approved in 2012.
And a wide range of community organizations continue to help extend our collective ability to protect people, creeks and neighborhoods.
We know that the long-term solution is more affordable housing, along with essential supportive services. With the high cost of housing in the Silicon Valley, the supply of housing to meet this need simply does not exist today, and it will take active leadership, strong will and more resources to create it for tomorrow.
To succeed, we must continue to innovate and collaborate — and we ask that the state and federal governments also participate in the solutions. Finger pointing doesn’t help, but serious money supporting a thoughtful strategy will.
Ed Shikada is city manager of San José, Jeff Smith is county executive of Santa Clara County and Beau Goldie is chief executive officer of the Santa Clara Valley Water District. They wrote this for this newspaper.