Our city struggles with many regional challenges, and homelessness is among the most complex and difficult to solve. Over the past three years, the Mountain View City Council has taken a compassionate approach, implementing a three-pronged strategy to address this issue: providing emergency assistance to the unstably housed in the short term, increasing housing supply in the long term, and responding to public health and safety concerns through outreach and enforcement.
We have succeeded in housing 116 Mountain View-affiliated households, with another 44 households on their way to housing. Additionally, in partnership with the county and nonprofit organizations like the Community Services Agency (CSA), the council has spent more than $2.5 million to offer important basic human services and outreach to residents living in vehicles. You can learn more about these services and other related programs at mountainview.gov/homeless.
Unfortunately, despite our efforts, the needle has not moved in the number of unstably housed individuals, including those living in vehicles. The city actually experienced an increase from an estimated 150 vehicles in February 2017 to approximately 290 vehicles in December 2018. Those living in vehicles are as diverse as those living in fixed housing. Some have lived in Mountain View before losing housing, some work here, some have other affiliations and some are new to the area. Some do not identify themselves as homeless and consider it an interim housing solution, declining assistance from CSA and city programs.
Moreover, the city increasingly struggles with genuine public health and safety concerns. Both residents living in vehicles and those in fixed housing are impacted when older vehicles leak sewage or when waste is illegally dumped. Households in vehicles are particularly vulnerable to predatory and criminal activity. Bicyclists and other users of public rights of way have reported visibility hazards and other traffic safety concerns. Permanent residency on city streets is neither desirable nor sustainable, although we recognize that many do not have a viable alternative.
On March 19, the council provided direction to city staff to address these challenges comprehensively and pragmatically. The city will continue to fund $1 million for programs to prevent homelessness, rehouse those who fall into homelessness, and provide other basic human services. Over the next few months, staff will also develop ordinances intended to expand the safe parking program in Mountain View (potentially doubling the current number across the entire county); explore ways to make it easier for private lot owners interested in providing safe parking to do so; and increase enforcement efforts, including oversized vehicle parking prohibitions, to address public health and safety concerns.
Mountain View cannot solve this issue on its own. We need a regional approach, with all cities providing shelter and safe parking opportunities, offering services and programs, and increasing housing supply. The county should take leadership in convening the various entities to come up with new solutions. We also support Gov. Gavin Newsom's proposal for $500 million in increased funding for the state of California's Homeless Emergency Aid Program.
Finally, we call upon all residents, businesses, and the faith community to participate in these efforts to assist the unstably housed by volunteering at or donating to CSA, Hope's Corner, and the homeless shelter at Trinity Church, or by identifying or providing safe parking lots. Only by working together will we be able to move the needle.
Margaret Abe-Koga is the vice mayor of Mountain View and Lucas Ramirez is a fellow City Council member.