Frequently Asked Questions
Homelessness and housing are important concerns in Santa Clara County, but supportive housing and the Housing First approach are relatively new concepts in our community.
Voter approval of the 2016 Measure A housing bond and development of new housing for formerly homeless individuals naturally raises questions from community members. Below are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.
2016 Measure A Affordable Housing Bond
Zoning and land use restrictions of the County’s 15 individual cities, along with a lack of available and unencumbered county property sites have resulted in the approval of less than 27% of proposed new affordable home projects. Additional challenges include identifying building sites in reasonable proximity to employers, public transportation, medical facilities and pharmacies, schools, and grocery outlets. Additionally, while Santa Clara County voters approved Measure A and agree that building additional affordable homes is a necessity in addressing the housing crisis, many are reluctant to accept or even consider supportive housing developments in their neighborhood.
In November 2016, Santa Clara County voters approved Measure A – the $950 million affordable housing bond. The housing bond provides the County with an unprecedented opportunity to partner with cities, residents, and the affordable and supportive housing community to significantly address the housing needs of the community’s poorest and most vulnerable residents. It will provide affordable housing for vulnerable populations including veterans, seniors, the disabled, low and moderate income individuals or families, foster youth, victims of abuse, the homeless and individuals suffering from mental health or substance abuse illnesses. The bond proceeds will contribute to the creation and/or preservation of approximately 4,800 affordable housing units over five years.
Housing-Reading Communities are places where residents and businesses fully understand the benefit of supportive housing and welcome new developments into their neighborhoods. Being a part of a Housing-Ready Community means you are ready to advocate for more housing in your community, understand the value of a diverse community, help others to understand the need and value of the supportive housing system, and create welcoming environments for your new neighbors as supportive housing is built.
There is no conclusive evidence that supportive or affordable housing increases neighborhood crime or negatively impacts property values. As homeless individuals already live and sleep on the streets in many of our neighborhoods, new supportive housing developments will increase the quality of life for the entire community.
Most developers of supportive housing in our community have been successfully building affordable housing in the region for decades. These developers, property managers and supportive service providers implement effective approaches that benefit the entire community and do not typically become magnets for homeless individuals. In Santa Clara County, supportive housing developments do not offer drop-in services (providing food, clothing or emergency shelter, for example) for people experiencing homelessness who do not live there.
Most affordable housing developers working in Santa Clara County are local, have been working here for decades, and hope to continue building here for years to come. They have a strong incentive to develop, own and operate buildings that are safe, attractive and well-maintained for residents and neighbors.
Homelessness in Santa Clara County
Homeless people are vulnerable and constantly at risk. Statistically, those experiencing homelessness are less likely to commit a crime than other members of our community. In fact, homeless people are more likely to be the victim of a violent crime than to commit one. Their lives are so dangerous and stressful that approximately 100 people died while living on the streets last year.
Some homeless people in our community suffer from mental illness or depression, just like people who have homes do. To be specific, 33% suffer from some type of mental health condition, 28% have a physical disability, 25% have a chronic health problem and 15% suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Living on the streets makes it difficult to receive the medication and medical help they need to deal with these issues. Supportive housing is successful for these individuals because services are always included. Case workers help them to stabilize their living situations, get involved and connected in the community, address substance abuse and mental and physical health problems. When people have homes, it is easier to address these complex issues.
Nearly everyone wants to live in a safe, affordable, and stable home. Almost no one wants to sleep in a tent or a car or under a bridge. A 2017 County Homeless Census and Survey showed that 89% of those experiencing homelessness in our community want to move into housing today.
We do not experience a significant influx of homeless people from other places. In fact, 83% of people who are homeless in our community lived here before they lost their homes.
Supportive Housing and Housing First
In compliance with the Fair Housing Act and to the extent allowable by law, new supportive housing developments in Santa Clara County try to prioritize people who are homeless in the neighborhood where the new homes will be. This work includes neighborhood-specific outreach in communities near proposed developments. This strategy increases the quality of life for new residents and also for the entire community.
Providing housing is actually one of the most cost effective ways to address homelessness, specifically for those needing the most help. According to Home Not Found: The Cost of Homelessness in Silicon Valley, public services cost about $62,000 per year for each of the most vulnerable homeless individuals when they are on the streets. After moving them into supportive housing, that cost is reduced to $20,000.
Housing First is an approach that prioritizes housing homeless individuals prior to beginning other types of intervention strategies. In the past, homeless people were expected to get clean and sober, find a job, or commit to treatment before receiving help to find a home. Studies have shown, however, that most people need housing before they can work on other personal issues. In most cases, a home provides the stability for people to find and keep a job more easily, stay sober, take better care of themselves and pursue other personal goals.
The Housing First approach gives people a safe, stable place to live, along with the services and support they need. This approach is especially successful for people experiencing chronic homelessness who have higher service needs who may not have been able to maintain housing in the past. Housing First results in long-term housing stability and improved physical and behavioral health. This approach also reduces the use of crisis services such as emergency rooms, hospitals and jails.
The County of Santa Clara and partner organizations fully adopted the Housing First approach in 2010. Commitment to this approach was affirmed during the 2015-2020 Community Plan to End Homelessness development process.