Close to two million Americans experience homelessness each year. For most, this is caused by the gap between income and the cost of housing. Yet for many, health conditions, mental health, substance abuse, trauma, and lack of support prevent them from obtaining permanent housing. Biennially, counties across the country conduct comprehensive counts of their homeless population, in order to gain a better understanding of the current homeless population in their community, and to apply for federal funding for homeless programs. The following information is drawn from the 2011 Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties Homeless Census and Survey reports.
Santa Clara County
The 2011 Santa Clara County Homeless Census identified 7,045 homeless individuals residing in Santa Clara County during a point-in-time count. It is estimated that 18,272 persons experience homelessness annually in Santa Clara County.Based on the 2010 U.S. Census population profile, this annual estimate of homelessness represented 1% of Santa Clara County's total population of 1,781,642 people. This count, however, should be considered conservative since it is well known that even with the most thorough methodology, many homeless individuals stay in locations where they cannot be seen or counted by enumeration teams. Further, many women and families try to remain hidden for safety.
The Homeless Survey revealed a diverse population with many different needs. However, the survey showed that the largest group of homeless persons were between 41 to 60 years old, were living in Santa Clara County at the time they became homeless, and had been homeless for a year or more. Thirty-nine percent (39%) identified as White/Caucasian, 31% as Hispanic/Latino, and 17% as Black/African American.
Key causes of homelessness included economic factors such as job loss or unemployment. More than one-quarter (27%) of homeless survey respondents reported the loss of a job as the primary reason they became homeless. One in five (20%) reported that their alcohol or drug issue was the primary cause of their homelessness.
Seventy percent (70%) of survey respondents reported that they had one or more disabling conditions. Thirty-nine percent (39%) reported a mental health issue and 46% reported suffering from substance abuse. The complex conditions affecting Santa Clara County's homeless population highlight the critical importance of integrated support services.
San Mateo County
The 2011 point-in-time homeless census determined that there were 2,149 homeless people in San Mateo County comprised of: 1,162 unsheltered homeless people (living on streets, in vehicles, in homeless encampments) and 987 sheltered homeless people (in emergency shelters, transitional housing, motel voucher programs, residential treatment, jails, and hospitals). There are an estimated 6,737 homeless people in San Mateo County on an annual basis.
The census counted very few unsheltered homeless families with children. The 2011 data on homeless families is consistent with the experience of San Mateo County service providers who observe that homeless families with children rarely live on the streets and are much more likely to reside in shelters or cars. Many families with children also live in places that do not meet the HUD standard of homelessness (i.e. they are living temporarily with friends or families) yet they are very precariously housed.
The results of the 2011 unsheltered homeless survey indicated that the typical unsheltered homeless person in San Mateo Countyis a single man with at least one disability. At least 97% of the unsheltered homeless adults surveyed were single individuals or couples who are not living with children, 67% were men, and 79% had at least one disability. The most commonly cited disabilities were alcohol or drug problems (56%), chronic health problems (43%), physical disability (32%), mental illness (28%) and post-traumatic stress disorder (21%).
The racial and ethnic composition of the homeless population (sheltered and unsheltered combined) was 40% White, 22% Black or African-American, 21% Latino, 5% Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, 3% Asian, 3% American Indian or Alaska Native, 5% multiple races, and 1% other or declined to state. Of all the homeless people counted, 12% were Veterans.
A very high proportion of unsheltered homeless people in San Mateo County have been homeless repeatedly and/or for long periods of time. The survey found that 46% were "chronically" homeless, meaning that they were disabled and had been homeless for longer than 12 months or for 4 times in the past 3 years.
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