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Santa Clara County is the 100th community to join the federal initiative “House America,” which pairs local governments with federal funding to address homelessness with a “housing first” mentality.

Since its launch in September 2021, local jurisdictions across the country have pledged to use resources of the American Rescue Plan passed by Congress to provide more affordable housing and emergency vouchers to residents in need. Together, the cities, counties and regional territories participating in House America have 50 percent of the nation’s entire homeless population.

Though Los Angeles’ Skid Row is often marked the epicenter of the nation’s homeless crisis, Silicon Valley is another hotspot that needs to be addressed, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge said this past week.

No community has solved homelessness by banning it, or by sweeping and moving encampments from area to area, Fudge said. Santa Clara County joining this initiative indicates that they are committed to adopting its “housing first” mindset.

“Solving homelessness means recognizing and confronting the injustices that have led people — especially Black, brown, Indigenous people, and other people of color — to the tragic circumstances that they find themselves in today,” Fudge said. “Solving homelessness requires focus and the investment of time and resources.”

She pointed to HUD’s recent funding package allocated for House America communities tackling unsheltered homelessness. For those who apply, HUD will distribute 4,000 new public housing vouchers for households experiencing or at-risk of homelessness, as well as $322 million in three-year grants for outreach, permanent housing and support services.

A priority since 2016

Susan Ellenberg, vice president of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, said the county prioritized permanent housing as a solution to homelessness when Measure A was approved by voters in 2016.

Labeled a housing bond, Measure A has allocated $950 million for the construction and rehabilitation of permanent housing. To date, it has added 4,773 affordable housing units in the county, including 2,000 units for those who were formerly unhoused.

Recently, the county added another round of 1,000 affordable housing developments specifically for families, those with special needs and farmworkers under the measure. The board also gave the green light for a community plan to address youth homelessness — currently, an estimated 1,100 young people in the county seek out housing every night, according to county data.

“This work is hard and demands courage, collaboration and unwavering commitment. But we can do it,” Ellenberg said. “Santa Clara County is and will continue to be all in for this work. And we look forward to serving as a model for communities across the country.”

Supervisor Susan Ellenberg

“This work is hard and demands courage, collaboration and unwavering commitment. But we can do it,” Ellenberg said. “Santa Clara County is and will continue to be all in for this work. And we look forward to serving as a model for communities across the country.”

Santa Clara County Housing Authority executive director Preston Prince also mentioned the county’s Heading Home campaign, which specifically targets meeting the needs of the 600 families experiencing homelessness. The goal is to have more housing placements than the number of families on the streets by 2025, termed “functional zero.”

“Our board’s forward thinking and commitment to addressing the housing needs of our community’s most vulnerable has preceded the campaign,” Prince said in reference to the recent addition of 1,000 emergency housing vouchers for families.

(Video courtesy of Destination: Home/YouTube)

Innovation and collaboration

At a news conference this past Thursday, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo highlighted the success of initiatives made on a city level, including its $200 million commitment towards affordable housing this year. Most of this money comes from Measure E, which has generated $135 million since 2020 from a property transfer tax.

Liccardo said that paired with partnership, innovative projects like quick-build apartments and converting motels into housing units will be the key to expanding impact on the crisis.

“We appreciate the deep engagement of the federal government in our local efforts,” Liccardo said. “I think we all recognize the importance of bringing both resources and collaboration to this effort.”