New data released by Santa Clara County shows that homelessness is a rapidly growing problem, with thousands of additional residents living on the streets compared to just two years ago.
The biennial homeless census, which took place in January, found that there are now 9,706 homeless residents in the county, up more than 31% over the 2017 count, according to a statement released Thursday. It's the largest single increase going back more than a decade, and shows the population has escalated since 2015.
The report is "preliminary" and does not include most of the granular data, including homeless counts for individual cities in the county, with the exception of San Jose. The city of San Jose's homeless population reportedly increased from 4,350 in 2017 to 6,172 in this year's count.
Among those who are homeless in Santa Clara County, the latest count found an increase in chronically homeless individuals -- up to 2,470 from 2,097 two years ago -- and the percentage of homeless residents who are deemed "unsheltered" is on the rise, indicating that the growing homeless population is more likely to be living in vehicles, encampments or on the street.
That won't come as a surprise to Mountain View residents, who have witnessed a significant increase in the number of vehicle dwellers in recent years. The latest count by the city found that 290 inhabited vehicles are currently on Mountain View's streets, including large RVs parked along Crisanto Avenue and Shoreline Boulevard.
Concerns about vehicle dwellers became a hot-button issue in the city during the 2018 election as city leaders sought to give homeless residents a viable alternative before imposing parking restrictions, including a slow rollout of a safe parking program. In March, a majority of the City Council agreed to consider an ordinance banning parked RVs and trailers.
Joe Simitian, president of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, said in a statement that the high cost of housing -- along with a housing shortage -- is making a bad problem worse, and that the county must pursue efforts to prevent homelessness. The county's $950 million Measure A housing bond is a good start, and the county has already committed $234 million of those funds to help build a collective 1,437 new units for "vulnerable members of the community," Simitian said.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said the report shows San Jose must "double down" on homelessness, and that that the "NIMBY" mentality in Silicon Valley shouldn't stand in the way of housing homeless residents.
"We all have a shared responsibility to address this crisis -- every city and every neighborhood. That means we must house homeless neighbors here, not the proverbial 'somewhere else.'"
The new homelessness numbers come from the biennial Point in Time count, a street-by-street canvassing effort conducted in January with the help of dozens of volunteers. While the count produces a snapshot of homelessness for one day, experts warn that any results should be interpreted as a severe undercount. Individuals who are couchsurfing, doubling up in homes or living out of garages or other such spaces will likely be missed by the homeless count.
Tom Myers, executive director of the Community Services Agency (CSA) of Mountain View and Los Altos, said he was expecting an increase in the homeless count but still was surprised to see how much it had risen since 2017. While the numbers for Mountain View have yet to be released, he said the demand for homeless services such as food and case management has risen steadily each year. So far, CSA has served 671 homeless individuals in the 2018-19 fiscal year, up from 597 from the prior year.
The trend is that more and more people are "falling" into homelessness and into poverty in Silicon Valley, particularly seniors who are struggling to keep up with the rapid increase in the cost of living, Myers said. He said he believes the full report will show seniors are among the big increase in homelessness across the county, especially in Mountain View.
"It is ironic and difficult to swallow that we live in an area where there is such an incredible amount of wealth and so many people are falling into poverty," he said. "It really boggles the mind."
Santa Clara County is hardly the exception. Preliminary data on homelessness in Alameda County shows an even larger increase in homelessness of 43%, from 5,629 homeless individuals in 2017 to 8,022 in 2019. San Francisco's homeless count increased to 8,011, up 17% from 2017.
County staff say additional information on the 2019 homeless census, including Mountain View's numbers, will be available in the full release of the report in early July.
Mark Noack contributed to this report