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.
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.
County staff say additional information on the 2019 homeless census will be available in the full release of the report in early July.