Santa Clara County officials, in collaboration with nonprofit housing partners and the city of San Jose, are looking to house 1,200 homeless families within the next year.
Heading Home, which launched on Monday, utilizes federal stipends that will cover rent for homeless families over the next decade.
"This is a once in a generation opportunity with a new infusion of resources," San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said at a news conference on Monday.
The county estimates that there are 600 families currently experiencing homelessness. They will be the first to receive stipends and be housed. A little less than 40% of those families are located in San Jose, Liccardo said.
Even if the county houses those 600 homeless families, officials anticipate that over the next year, 600 more families will fall into homelessness, which is where the 1,200 number comes from.
"We have to do more than just help the people that are outside right now. These are hard working parents, victims and survivors of domestic violence, and pregnant mothers just looking for a place to call home," said Ray Bramson, chief operating officer of Destination Home.
Bramson said about 40% of homeless parents are employed full time, but they just can't keep up with increasing housing costs in the Bay Area. An estimated 70% of unhoused families are single female heads of households, with 62% self-reporting that they have children enrolled in Santa Clara County schools, according to county data.
California homelessness data shows that Santa Clara County has almost 2,700 homeless residents under the age of 18 -- the most in all Bay Area counties.
"Every child in our community deserves to thrive and that begins with a home," county Supervisor Cindy Chavez said.
Numbers might be even higher as many women intentionally avoid reporting that they are homeless in fear of having their children taken away.
Supervisor Susan Ellenberg said this was a story she has heard time and again. During her tours of local encampments, she said she learned that unhoused mothers were hiding their newborn infants, "preventing them from getting critical early care because they feared they would be labeled unfit parents and their children would be removed from them."
"Being homeless is not a crime and living in poverty should not be a reason to separate families. Our residents should not be living in constant fear of being torn from their loved ones because of their housing situation, or lack thereof. We have an overdue obligation to remove the stigma," Ellenberg said.
The goal of Heading Home is to achieve a "functional zero" in five years, meaning the number of housing placements for families in the county is greater than the number of families entering homelessness.
To achieve that goal, local leaders said the county and its partners would have to focus on four main components. The first is to locate landlords willing to participate in the 10-year housing voucher program to house a family experiencing homelessness. Vouchers will come directly from the federal government. Most will be a set market rate, with some flexibility to provide additional funds.
The second aspect is to expand the county's rapid rehousing program that provides temporary subsidies and case management, to include 200 more families annually.
Third, the program would expand the county's homelessness prevention strategies to serve 2,500 households by 2025.
The funding to expand such programs comes from a myriad of sources, Bramson said. There is a new influx of cash coming from the state with Gov. Gavin Newsom's $12 billion investment to combat homelessness. The county also is receiving additional federal dollars as well as support from nonprofits, philanthropies and other private entities.
"There's unprecedented funds and resources coming from the state right now. We don't know exactly what all the dollars will look like because they come to us, but we do know there will be a gap. So, we need more than just the government funding to make this happen," Bramson said.
The last aspect of the Heading Home plan would continue to create more affordable and supportive housing through Measure A funding.
Bramson called on the community to support these efforts by donating. The call to action however, especially targeted landlords.
The vouchers mean less turnover for landlords and a stable home for new tenants, Ellenberg added.
More information about the program will be released in the coming weeks, she said. Until then, the county is working with housing nonprofits to identify sites for the 10-year housing vouchers and to immediately start placing the unhoused families in homes.