The numbers of Gilroy residents without homes has changed little, while Santa Clara County’s homeless population increased over the past two years, according to a county report released July 18.
The 2019 “Homeless Census and Survey” conducted country-wide in January and February showed a 2 percent decrease in the number of people without shelter in GIlroy, from 722 to 704.
In the county as a whole, the number of homeless residents soared to 9,706, from 7,394 in the last census, taken in 2017, the highest in over a decade. Soaring housing costs were cited as a major factor in the increase.
The biennial homeless surveys are required of all jurisdictions receiving federal funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide services for the homeless.
The significant change in the Gilroy numbers were the number of homeless people without adequate shelter.
While the number of “unsheltered” Gilroy residents in 2017 was 295, that number grew to 345 in the most recent survey. There was a corresponding drop in the number of “sheltered” homeless people, from 427 in 2017, to 359 in 2019.
Jan Bernstein-Chargin of the Gilroy Compassion Center, said, “In 2019 the ‘cap’ at the Gilroy Armory winter homeless shelter was reduced from 130 ( plus 50 on inclement weather nights) to 100 ( plus 30 on inclement weather nights), leaving more people outdoors, and on the streets.”
“When there are safe and legal places to sleep, homeless people will use them, and when there are not, they will be left outdoors, unsheltered,” she said.
In the county, more than four in five—82 percent—persons experiencing homelessness were “unsheltered—living in places not intended for human habitation.”
In the latest county count, a total of 269 families consisting of 921 individual family members were homeless, about 9 percent of the total homeless population. That is a decrease from 2017, when 15 percent of the county’s homeless population were in families.
The majority of families experiencing homelessness in the county were sheltered at the time of the survey—74 percent—a slight increase from 2017.
Financial problems —job loss, high rents, low income— were the most common reasons for people to have lost their housing.
More than one-third of the survey respondents indicated they were experiencing homelessness for the first time, with a recent job loss cited as the most common reason for their situation.
When asked what might have prevented them from becoming homeless, the top answers were rent/mortgage assistance and employment assistance.
The biggest obstacles to obtaining permanent housing were the affordability of rent (66 percent), lack of a job (56 percent) and lack of available housing (40 percent).
Nealry 80 percent of homeless people with jobs reported incomes of less than $1,500 per month, an improvement over the 2017 survey, when 88 percent reported monthly incomes of less than $1,500.
“There are still many challenges to overcome in achieving the goal of eliminating homeless in Santa Clara County,” the county said in its report.
Nearly 20 percent of homeless people were under the age of 25, according to the report. Eight percent were under the age of 18.
“We need more safe and legal places to sleep, year-round shelter availability, safe parking, managed campgrounds, and more places to live on low incomes, plus subsidized housing, tiny homes and shared housing solutions,” said Bernstein-Chargin.
Just 22 percent of the countywide respondents were living in a public shelter.
Of the “unsheltered” population, 34 percent were living outdoors in streets, parks or encampments, 18 percent were living in vehicles, and 13 percent were living in “structures not meant for habitation.”