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.

The program, launched Monday, is called HEADING HOME. It 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 Monday.

The county estimates that there are 600 families currently experiencing homelessness — so they will be the first to receive stipends and be housed. A little less than 40 percent of those families are located in San Jose, Liccardo said.

But even if the county houses those 600 already 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,” said Ray Bramson, chief operating officer of Destination Home. “These are hard working parents, victims and survivors of domestic violence, pregnant mothers just looking for a place to call home.”

Bramson continued that about 40 percent of homeless parents are employed full time, but just can’t keep up with increasing housing costs in the Bay Area.

And 70 percent of unhoused families are single female heads of household, with 62 percent self-reporting that they have children enrolled in Santa Clara County schools, according to county data.

Homeless numbers may be muted by fear

California homelessness data found that Santa Clara has almost 2,700 homeless residents under the age of 18 — the most in all the Bay Area counties.

“Every child in our community deserves to thrive and that begins with a home,” county supervisor Cindy Chavez said.

And numbers may be even higher, as many women intentionally avoid reporting that they are homeless in fear of having their children taken away from then.

YouTube video
(Video courtesy of Destination: Home/YouTube)

Supervisor Susan Ellenberg said this was a story she had heard time and again during her tenure as supervisor.

During her tours of local encampments, she said she learned that unhoused moms 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 reason to separate families,” Ellenberg said. “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.”

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.

Four steps

To achieve that goal, local leaders said the county and 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.

Those vouchers will come directly from the federal government. Most will be a set market rate, with some flexibility to provide additional funds, Branson said.

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.

And the third aspect is to expand the county’s homelessness prevention strategies to serve 2,500 households by 2025.

“Being homeless is not a crime and living in poverty should not be reason to separate families.”

Supervisor Susan Ellenberg

The funding to expand such programs comes from a myriad of sources, Bramson said. There is new influx of cash coming from the state with Governor Gavin Newsom’s $12 billion investment to combat homelessness. The county is also 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,” Bramson said. “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.”

And the last aspect of the HEADING HOME plan is to continue to create more affordable and supportive housing through Measure A funding.

Bramson, along with local electees called on the community to support these efforts by donating. The call to action however, especially targeted landlords.

“(The vouchers mean) less turnover for your properties and a stable home for new tenants,” Ellenberg said. “So landlords, please be on the lookout for more information.”

The supervisor continued that more information about the program will be released in the coming weeks. Until then the county is working with housing nonprofits to identify sites for the 10-year housing vouchers and immediately start placing the unhoused families in homes.