We are helping to create a community where every family can have a place to call home.
Another aspect of our affordable housing crisis is homelessness.
Cold weather over the last few weeks was a cruel reminder that many in our county live without basic shelter. Through the tireless efforts of local governments, non-profits and volunteers, we were able to make sure that no life was lost as the temperature dropped and exposed those without shelter to an uncertain fate. For those of you who literally brought the homeless in out of the cold and provided them with shelter, we thank you.
I realize that often the discussion of homelessness is unpopular. Let's be honest, most of us aren't homeless, and sometimes we wonder how the issue impacts us.
Well, let me tell you how it impacts me.
You see, I find it difficult to feel like I am truly accomplishing my job as a County supervisor when there are those in our community who are not provided even the basic human needs of food, shelter and medical care.
There is a famous quote from Hubert Humphrey that states: "The moral test of government is how it treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the aged; and those in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped."
Under this test the County does pretty well, but I believe we can do more, especially for those truly in the shadows - the homeless.
In December 2004, a countywide homeless census and survey was conducted and found that on a given night there were 7,646 homeless in our county and nearly 35 percent of those were chronically homeless.
Of the 7,646 homeless, 58 percent receive no government assistance, 75 percent report having a disability of some kind, and 20 percent reported working full or part time.
We are in the process of updating our census; early, and I mean early - 4 o'clock this morning - a group of volunteers went out on the streets for the second morning in a row, to once again count the number of people living on the streets or staying the night in shelters and emergency rooms. The information gained from this census will help us define the extent and nature of homelessness in our County.
In 2005, using information gained from the prior census, the County adopted a 10-year Plan to End Homelessness. This plan is a Housing First Model, which has proven to be successful in many other cities and counties throughout the country.
The Housing First Model helps homeless families move directly into affordable rental housing, then provides them with individualized home-based supportive social services to help each family transition to stability and independence.
Permanent supportive housing for the homeless is both cost effective and logical. It costs taxpayers an estimated $61,000 annually to cover the cost of emergency room services and incarceration for one chronically homeless person.
Our hospital emergency room has become the primary care provider for the uninsured; 62,000 patients visit annually, and many of them are homeless. Our hospital emergency room has become a night stay, a respite from the cold or rain for the unhoused.
Yet it would cost only $16,000 per year to provide permanent supportive housing that included treatment and care for the same person.
Providing the homeless with permanent supportive housing would save Santa Clara County taxpayers millions of dollars each year and presents a tremendous opportunity to break the vicious cycle of homelessness. By providing housing first, the demand for services and the overflow in emergency rooms is diminished.
We have adopted a plan, but I believe that we need to take the next step. But we cannot take this step alone; we need partners. If we have any hope of addressing the issue of the chronically homeless, we will need the assistance of non-profits, business and community leaders, and the cities in our county.
I have agreed to assemble a team to jump-start the plan. I have asked many of our community partners to join me in this effort and have assembled a Blue Ribbon Commission to address the barriers to homelessness and housing.
I am asking the commission to help provide the leadership to implement solutions to this affordable housing crisis, and to restate our commitment to ending homelessness.
I am proud to announce that the following individuals have accepted my invitation:
San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed;
County Executive Pete Kutras;
Sheriff Laurie Smith;
San Jose Police Chief Rob Davis;
Santa Clara Mayor Patricia Mahan, President of the Santa Clara County Cities Association
Chief of Correction Ed Flores;
Pat Dando, President and CEO of the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce;
Bob Brownstein, Policy Director of Working Partnerships;
Chris Block, Executive Director the Charities Housing and Chair of the Collaborative on Housing and Homelessness;
Alex Sanchez, Executive Director of the Housing Authority of Santa Clara County;
Will Lightbourne, Director of the Social Services Agency;
Nancy Peña, Director of the Mental Health Department;
Mark Walker, President & CEO of the United Way;
Leslye Krutko, Director of the San Jose Housing Department;
Marjorie Matthews, our Director of the Office of Affordable Housing;
Kim Roberts, Acting Director of the Health & Hospital System;
Ben Spero, Spectrum Equity;
Carl Guardino, President and CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.
And I know we will be adding others. I want to thank each of them for their willingness to participate.
On another front, the County is developing methods to assist the homeless in applying for benefits that they are entitled to. The Department of Employment and Benefits has been working to address the benefits of the chronically homeless; in particular the food stamp program.
The California food stamp program serves more than 2 million people annually. A recent study found that more than 50 percent of Americans between the ages of 20 and 65 will at some point receive food stamps.
Despite providing vital assistance to half of the adults, the food stamp program continues to be underutilized. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently concluded that only 45 percent of eligible people in California participate in the program.
Research shows that the lengthy application process is at least partly to blame. In response to this, the County is launching a New Food Stamp Pilot Project on February 1st.
Our Department of Employment and Benefits has designed a new process for our chronically homeless clients to apply for food stamps. This project will explore ways to simplify the process in order to serve homeless individuals and families with the least amount of paperwork.
The goal of our pilot project is to offer an expedited application process for chronically homeless individuals, and to eliminate the barriers - such as multiple office visits. The project is designed to offer the shortest possible turn-around time between application and delivery of service - 3 days.
I want to thank Kathy Buckovetz, Director of the County Department of Employment & Benefit Services and her staff - Alette Lundeberg, Denise Boland and Mary Cardenas for their hard work. We held our first training earlier this month, and had an overwhelming response from our community partners.
This is a giant step that the County has taken to serve the marginalized in our community. Through efforts such as this, we will continue to improve on how we deliver services to the homeless.
It is also my hope that with the assistance of the Blue Ribbon Commission we can begin to serve those in the shadows and end chronic homelessness.
It has been said, "Cooperation is the thorough conviction that nobody can get there unless everybody gets there."
I am convinced that working together, we can address the challenges in front of us. And I invite you to work with us to make sure that we remain a strong county that cares deeply about ALL of our residents. – less – More from ZoomInfo »