More seniors becoming homeless in Santa Clara County

Families, elderly are seeking services in the wake of high housing costs

The faces of Palo Alto's and Santa Clara County's homeless residents are getting older, as more seniors are unable to afford the region's skyrocketing rents, members of a panel on homelessness said on Thursday.

The panel of experts, which was moderated by Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, spoke during the "Faces of Homelessness in Silicon Valley: Perception versus Reality" luncheon at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

The event was organized by LifeMoves, formerly InnVision Shelter Network, the largest nonprofit agency serving homeless individuals and families in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. Panelists were Jennifer Loving, executive director of Destination: Home; Kevin Fagan, San Francisco Chronicle reporter; and Brian Greenberg, LifeMoves vice president.

The threat of homelessness is on the rise nationwide, as service and lower-wage workers are being pushed out of housing because of the disparity between wages and housing costs, the panelists said. The Bay Area's exceptionally high housing costs have exacerbated the situation, which is also playing out in Palo Alto.

Greenberg, who is also a psychologist, found that many of Palo Alto's homeless population at the Opportunity Center's Drop-in Center were once housed residents.

"I was amazed at the number of people that went to Paly and Gunn (high schools). So many people that grew up in middle- and upper-middle-class families," he said.

Families and seniors are the rising homeless populations, the panelists said.

Santa Clara County has the highest per capita of physically unsheltered population in the United States, even though there are six or seven jurisdictions nationally that have larger numbers of homeless, Loving said.

There are 6,500 homeless persons on Santa Clara County streets each night, but the bad news is that it is probably an undercount, she said. About 30 percent of homeless persons in Santa Clara County are living on the street without shelter every day, Simitian added.

LifeMoves has 17 facilities to help homeless individuals and families, with six of the facilities serving families alone. Up to half of those families come with a head of household who is working one or two jobs, Greenberg said.

Seniors make up the most rapidly growing population showing up at LifeMoves shelters, Greenberg said, and many have health-related challenges.

"Some of our shelters look like senior-care homes. And unlike many common perceptions about the homeless, these people, many of them, have no history of mental illness; have no history of addiction. They were living in a Mountain View apartment or a Redwood City apartment, and 10 years ago their one-bedroom rent was $800, now it's $2,600. They have no local family and they wind up in shelters. So the face of homelessness is suddenly changing with the times," he said.

"The housing crisis feeds homelessness," added Fagan, who has reported extensively on the issue.

In San Jose alone, there are more than 300 homeless encampments, Loving said.

"There is not a city in this county that doesn't have a problem with encampments along waterways, parks, parking garages and alleys," she added.

San Jose had the largest homeless encampment in the county known as "The Jungle." Before it was closed, Loving spent a year there working with teams of doctors and organizations to help connect people to housing and services.

"It was horrifying. ... Some of the most heartbreaking things I saw in The Jungle were the kids that were coming out of the tents ... and (put on) their backpacks to go to school. Some of the girls were my daughter's age," she said.

Greenberg said breaking the cycle of homelessness is difficult, but he pointed to cities that have seemingly "cracked the code," including Salt Lake City, Utah, and Cleveland, Ohio. Those cities have one-bedroom apartments for under $600 per month, compared to Redwood City's average of $2,500 per month, he said.

When one looks at all of the problems that contribute to homelessness, the common element is that people don't have a home, Loving said. "Housing-first" programs, with multiple supportive services to address physical and mental health, addiction and joblessness, have dropped the county's costs for managing homelessness because people are not sick, hurt or dependent anymore, she said.

During 2015, LifeMoves, which manages Palo Alto's Opportunity Center Drop-in Center, provided services to more than 15,000 people in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, and helped 1,000 homeless families and individuals each night in 17 locations, according to the organization.

While receiving interim housing, clients receive behavioral, career, financial, health and learning services to break the cycle of homelessness. Ninety-seven percent of families and 82 percent of individuals in interim housing who completed LifeMoves programs returned to stable housing and self-sufficiency, the organization said.

Loving said that programs such as Destination: Home and LifeMoves aided in reducing the number of homeless people in Santa Clara County. The number is the lowest in 10 years, she said. In 2011, the county began an aggressive program to reduce homelessness. In 2013, the county had an estimated 7,600 homeless persons; by 2015, the number dropped to 6,500, she said.

Chronicle reporter Fagan, who lived among San Francisco's homeless for six months and reported extensively on their conditions, said that housing-first programs have dramatically reduced the cost of caring for chronically homeless persons. On average, a chronically homeless person costs $60,000 annually in city services such as repeat police calls and hospital visits, he said. But a homeless person in supportive housing costs $15,000-$20,000 per year.

"We're turning the tide, finally, in our community," Loving said. "Homelessness is a justice issue and homelessness is one of responsibility. ... But no one is actually responsible because if you are responsible, you do something about it -- you solve it.

"We locally have started to take responsibility in a really meaningful way over the last five years, I'd say. We're really saying, 'This is our problem and we're gonna fix it.' And that's why we're seeing numbers start to go down."

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34 people like this
Posted by Longtime Resident
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Apr 16, 2016 at 1:01 pm

Responsibility for this is squarely on the shoulders of local city councils, who for decades, have allowed more an imbalance of offices and huge commercial buildings to be built, attracting thousands of workers from around the world.

Over population is here, and it is not from births in families that have lived here for those decades. Our traffic is now worse than in Los Angeles with no changes in infrastructure. Only Band-Aid efforts are used with it.

Our problems stem greatly from bringing in foreign adults for work, many singles that can live together and share the rent. Or even foreign families that can share the rent together in a group home.

It is forcing families and seniors that have been renting, out. It's greed on the part of landlords and it's a lack of wisdom on the part of city councils.

City councils have a habit of not knowing what happened, or the result of their decisions, although they pay "consultants" thousands of dollars to advise them reporting back to them what they want to hear.

35 people like this
Posted by My Fair Neighbor
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 16, 2016 at 1:31 pm

We are to blame.
One need look no further than Maybell to see our communities lack of concern for our Seniors.

12 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Apr 16, 2016 at 1:37 pm

I'm surprised no one has thought to tell these seniors that its much cheaper to live in Stockton, or Detroit.

45 people like this
Posted by Unkind Remarks Unwanted
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 16, 2016 at 3:55 pm

Seniors NEED to be near close relatives, for safety and security. Why move to the middle of nowhere, where there is no one to look out for you.

BTW, most retirement communities and assisted living homes cost more money per month than the average 2-3 income family even earn!

31 people like this
Posted by A. Scarlet Letter
a resident of another community
on Apr 16, 2016 at 6:32 pm

"City councils have a habit of not knowing what happened, or the result of their decisions, [snip].

They know, but the prospect of campaign cash, and/or the thrill of associating with and being romanced by wealthy developers, is irresistable.

But the real problem is greedy landlords. The best peoples' weapon is to publicly embarrass them through a well-publicized online registry showing their names, their properties, and their rent history.

15 people like this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Apr 16, 2016 at 7:40 pm

You elect your city council members, so hold them accountable however and whenever you can. If a decade after the council's lousy decisions results in seniors on the streets, the greedy landlords aren't the only ones who should be publicly embarrassed, the policy makers should as well, from the council all the way up to the governor.

5 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of University South
on Apr 19, 2016 at 11:38 am

The most obvious solution to this would be senior housing of the type that Palo Alto has allowed in the past: places like Channing House, Lytton Gardens, and other midrise homes targeted at seniors.

However, this City Council has evidenced a clear desire to allow as little housing as possible to comply with state law. So it's unlikely that the kind of housing that once could have been built for past generations will be allowed for this one.

Like this comment
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 19, 2016 at 1:08 pm

@A. Scarlet Letter Why are landlords greedy but the owners of single family homes that bought them for $17,000 in 1970 and sell them for $2.5million not greedy?

Rents have nothing to do with cost. Just like the value of a single family home, the rent is based on the "value" to the tenant.

If you want to lower rents, put limits on the sale price of single family homes. Nothing will depress housing faster.

Don't complain that landlords "owe" tenants. Don't complain that landlords are "greedy". The property is how they make their living.

8 people like this
Posted by Incidentally
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 19, 2016 at 1:55 pm

The term, " Property is Theft" comes from the Bolshevik Revolution and has been used repeatedly as Communist propaganda.

It even made an appearance in the movie, "Doctor Zhivago"

Many Russian immigrants would be distressed to see or hear this phrase, BTW

Like this comment
Posted by reader
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 19, 2016 at 4:00 pm

No - not from the Bolshevik revolution.
Older than that.

2 people like this
Posted by Dean
a resident of another community
on Apr 20, 2016 at 12:47 am

Establishment of the $15.00 per hour minimum wage is going to push many more seniors out of their housing. The reason is simple economics, the minimum wage recipients are getting a raise of somewhere between $1,000.00 per year and $3,000.00 per year, (maybe more). When a senior does get an increase on their fixed income it is usually between $60.00 and $240.00 per year. Most get no increases, pushing the senior into a choice: do I pay for health care or be able to share a small apartment with several other people and end up paying a penalty for not having insurance (which I don't have the funds for) or do I start eating one meal a day so I can share a small apartment with several other people, and pay the penalty for not having insurance (which I don't have the funds for. This year there was no increase for those receiving Social Security, so choices are having to be made which should not have to be.

I fit into the senior category on a fixed income, and have to pay taxes, this year it was about 29%, so almost 1/3 of my income is not income but just more outgo. Getting a fixed income of approaching $95,000.00, that meant I really only received just over $60,000.00 which seems like a lot, and it could be, but not here in the Bay Area. Rent is almost $30,000.00 leaving about $30,000.00 to cover auto repairs, food, PG&E (between $3,000.00 and 4,000.00 per year) San Jose Water Company (approaching $2,000.00), garbage ($360.00). That leaves about $24,000.00 per year to cover food, car repairs, auto insurance ($1,500.00), homeowner/renter insurance ($400.00), food ($5,000.00) , storage ($3,600.00), where almost $11,000.00 is consumed), auto repairs/maintenance ($3,600.00), leaving about . . . there are many things I have not put into this, such as cable TV, . . ., and on and on using up most of my income, and when an emergency arrives there are no reserve funds (a real comfortable feeling, huh!).

This is me, and most retired people are not receiving anywhere near my income. Most are in the $12,000.00 to. $15,000.00 per year. Still I may have to leave the Bay Area, where I can buy a house for 1/8 of what I would pay here, a $150,000.00 house that would be priced at $950,000.00 or more here.

Thanks for allowing me to rant.

3 people like this
Posted by CreativeSolutionsNeeded
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2016 at 8:05 pm

Can we put two agreeable Seniors sharing the rent in a standard Studio Apartment, thereby increasing some housing for seniors. Can we buy a Church or office building and retrofit it for Senior Housing. H

How about Palo Alto zoning? Change the sq. footage permissible to carve out an in-law/nanny/young adult/any age related adult to have their own efficiency kitchen; kitchens are usually the sticking point with current sq. footage requirements for this type of additional unit in an already existing home. It can be easy to add additional units if this is actively promoted.

1 person likes this
Posted by Don't be a loud hypocrite
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2016 at 9:18 pm

@My Fair,
Yes, the people like you who were so rigid and unbending that you weren't willing to do anything but try to shove a bad plan down the throats of people asking to work something out including the affordable housing (and who had done so in the past) so that all those people could do was fight to defeat it, was definitely a show of lack of concern for seniors.

As was the fighting over that plan when there were like 20 empty senior BMR units in just one Palo Alto senior center, that had been empty for a long time, because of conditions the City didn't take into account and didn't bother to change so the units could be filled. It wasn't until that debate that they bothered to do anything, and the units filled, which showed they could have done so all along. Maybe those weren't for the same income level, but the Maybell plan had WAY WAY more problems in the same vein as why those senior BMRs went empty.

But, keep it up, you are continuing to do a great job estranging your neighbors and ensuring no one will ever come together to do anything.

Personally, I would love to retire somewhere else a little quieter. Why doesn't Palo Alto build retirement communities somewhere people want to actually retire, and make regular transportation here possible? I'd do it. Palo Alto is to expensive to retire, and quality of life is tanking.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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