Palo Alto homelessness rises 26 percent

Housing costs and availability still major culprits, county census finds

The number of homeless persons in Palo Alto -- 276 -- has risen by 26 percent since 2015, the highest count in the past 10 years, according to the 2017 Santa Clara County Homeless Census & Survey, which was released on June 30.

The biennial report found that most homeless persons in the county are unemployed and that nearly half are experiencing their first episode of homelessness.

The census, which was conducted Jan. 24 and 25 from 5:30 a.m. to noon, included persons in shelters and those who slept in cars, parks, abandoned buildings, bus or train stations, airports or campgrounds. It did not include people living in unstable situations such as "couch surfing" or motels or hotels or who live in vehicles parked in private driveways or yards.

Palo Alto's count this year surpassed 2007's, when the city had 237 homeless persons, the highest figure in the past decade. The number of homeless persons rose from 219 to 276 between 2015 and 2017, according to the report. Of those, 256 were unsheltered (up from 203) and 20 were sheltered (up from 16).

In 2009, 2011 and 2013, the city had 178, 151 and 157 homeless persons respectively, according to previous counts.

But the count rose in part because for the first time the Palo Alto Unified School District reported to the county the number of its students who are not housed. Similar homeless-population jumps were seen in Mountain View and Morgan Hill.

External factors similarly contributed to decreases in the homeless counts in cities such as Milpitas, Santa Clara and Sunnyvale. For example, in Santa Clara, a transitional housing facility whose tenants were previously counted was converted to another use, said Hilary Barroga, county Continuum of Care Quality Improvement manager.

Brian Greenberg, vice president of programs and services at the nonprofit LifeMoves, which provides homeless services in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, said the rising homelessness reflects the lack of affordable housing. Throughout the county, housing and rental prices have skyrocketed relative to income. People who make $13 to $14 an hour have been the most affected; they cannot afford housing in this area, he said.

Recent increases in people living in RVs and other vehicles are directly related to the housing crisis, including in Palo Alto, Greenberg said. In general, these populations are under-counted. Survey takers are instructed not to knock on the doors of RVs and cars, and persons living in driveways and yards are not approached or counted, he said.

The county report found that 8 percent of the county's 7,394 homeless persons live in vehicles. But identifying persons living in vehicles is difficult during the morning hours when the census took place. Many vehicle dwellers have moved by the time the sun rises to more remote locations where they can blend in. To address that issue, in the north part of the county, which includes Palo Alto, a dedicated outreach worker sought out vehicles prior to sunrise, the report noted.

Overall, homeless persons are under-counted, the report acknowledged. Many people experiencing homelessness do not want to be located. Factors that contribute to under-counts include people living in vehicles or abandoned buildings; persons residing in isolated rural or inaccessible areas; or people who appear to be housed and who are therefore overlooked.

Families with children also often seek to stay on private property rather than sleeping on the streets, in vehicles or in makeshift shelters. Therefore, the study's data is considered a minimum estimate, the report noted.

Greenberg thinks the number of people who are homeless will continue rising unless every city and town takes on building their share of permanent low-income and transitional housing, he said. The survey found that 89 percent of homeless persons in the county are interested in affordable, permanent housing.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires all jurisdictions receiving federal funding for services and housing for homeless persons to conduct the survey, which is the only source of nationwide data on sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons.

In Santa Clara County the report is conducted through the Office of Supportive Housing, Continuum of Care, in conjunction with social research firm Applied Survey Research.

In 2016 Santa Clara County voters passed a nearly $1 billion affordable housing bond that allows the county to purchase land and build housing for vulnerable populations such as veterans, seniors, disabled and low- and moderate-income individuals or families, victims of abuse, homeless and persons suffering from mental health or substance abuse.

Greenberg said all cities must take on their share of responsibility to house people.

"Everyone wants a magic bullet" to solve the housing crisis, Greenberg said. But "the magic bullet for us is for everyone to take part: communities, cities, residents and the homeless. They are not going to go to another community. When San Francisco does a sweep of an encampment, they go four blocks away. What we need is a collaboration of the cities."

The survey found that 42 percent of Santa Clara County homeless respondents had lived in a home they or a partner owned or rented prior to becoming homeless; 83 percent were Santa Clara County residents at the time they lost their homes. The majority were also longtime residents: 61.1 percent had lived in the county for 10 or more years.

Report statistics: In a nutshell

Overall, Santa Clara County saw a 13 percent rise in homelessness from 2015 to 2017, according to the survey. Homeless population percentage changes between 2015-2017 by city were

Campbell 77%

Cupertino 74%

Gilroy 64%

Milpitas -46%

Morgan Hill 379%

Mountain View 51%

Palo Alto 26%

San Jose 7%

Santa Clara 28%

Sunnyvale -12%

Unincorporated areas -24%

(For Los Altos, Los Gatos, Monte Sereno, Saratoga, the percent change was not calculated because the cities had fewer than 50 homeless individuals.)

Population segments:

7,394 total homeless in Santa Clara County, among which are

• 2,530 unaccompanied children and "transition-age" youth

• 2,097 chronically homeless

• 660 veterans

• 294 families (1,075 persons)

• and others

Age and gender:

• 57% 25 years and older

• 66% men

• 33% women

• 1% transgender

Race or ethnicity: (people could self-identify in multiple categories)

• 47% white

• 42% Latino

• 20% Pacific Islander/native Hawaiian

• 14% black

• 13% multiracial

• 3% Asian


2015: 81% unemployed

2017: 92% unemployed

Monthly income 2017:

• $0-$99: 7% (employed); 37% (unemployed)

• $100-$449: 26% (employed); 39% (unemployed)

• $450-$749: 28% (employed); 9% (unemployed)

• $750-$1,099: 14% (employed); 10% (unemployed)

• $1,100-$1,499: 14% (employed); 4% (unemployed)

• $1,500-$3,000: 12% (employed); 2% (unemployed)

• More than $3,000: 0% (employed); 1% (unemployed)

Health conditions:

• 48% substance abuse

• 38% psychiatric conditions

• 31% physical disability

• 27% chronic health problems

• 22% post-traumatic stress disorder

• 21% history of domestic abuse

Where they live:

• 36% in shelter

• 35% in street or park encampments

• 14% in structure not meant for habitation

• 8% in vehicles

• 8% motels/hotels

Frequency of homelessness:

• 41% experiencing their first episode of homelessness

• 64% homeless for one year or more

(Source: Applied Survey Research, Santa Clara County Homeless Census Survey 2017(

Related article:

Housing for good: Palo Alto's Opportunity Center is radical experiment in housing the homeless


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10 people like this
Posted by KB
a resident of Ventura
on Jul 1, 2017 at 7:14 am

This is a very helpful report. Thank you.

17 people like this
Posted by Housing
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 1, 2017 at 10:00 am

Wow. Maybe we stop all this slow growth nonsense and actually build homes so there are less homeless people.

38 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 1, 2017 at 10:54 am

john_alderman is a registered user.

@ Housing- right! because they are all just waiting to trade in their camper for a $800,000, 200 sqft transit friendly. condo.

40 people like this
Posted by My grandparents were immigrants
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 1, 2017 at 11:10 am

It's because they aren't realistic with money. Americans spend too much money and are strung-out on debt. They should be saving money every month, they should be working two jobs. Who really needs Starbuck's every day? Who NEEDS to live in Silicon Valley? There are many East Bay commuters. Besides our mortgage, we pay our bills in full every month. This is what Americans need to do, it's so obvious. There are plenty of Help Wanted signs around. The immigrants do what it takes to make it work; they start businesses without speaking a drop of English. These Americans have been here for many generations and they are spoiled and entitled, waiting for the liberal elites to bail them out. They should try hard work like the rest of us.

10 people like this
Posted by Homelessness has nothing to do with being able to save money
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 1, 2017 at 12:30 pm

The solution is for people to stop bringing other people into this world whereby, there is simply too much competition for resources. People should think twice, or three times as to whether they are bringing a child into the world who can compete with others either academically, financially, and with respect to career options so that they can both survive in this world, and enjoy life. Personally, I could have done without ever being alive. Being alive is way too much work, but one just keeps swimming as Dorey said, and hoping that the next day will be better than prior day, which, it really never is. Life is Long as they say, and for most of us, way too long to keep having to figure out ways to survive. No one should be without a place to live, regardless.

19 people like this
Posted by Believe Me
a resident of Stanford
on Jul 1, 2017 at 4:46 pm

Homeless people have no debt. The most recent wave of homeless people, families, have jobs-- some of them in tech!

They have computers, cell phones and bank accounts. They use PO Boxes or Mailbox Etc for addresses-- they just can't afford housing for three, four or five people!

34 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 1, 2017 at 5:05 pm

The article says that 90%+ of the homeless in the county are unemployed. The idea that the homeless are just "normal", gainfully employed folks is simply not backed by the numbers. And the idea that any meaningful percentage of the homeless are families with tech jobs who just can't afford an apartment is silly. Equally laughable is the idea that the homeless population is made up of lazy, able-bodied people who just lack a work ethic and just need to "get a job".

What is backed up by the numbers is that they are overwhelmingly dealing with mental health and/or substance abuse issues.

The solution to the homeless epidemic is not simple. Would more manufacturing jobs help? Sure. Would more affordable housing units help? Probably. But the lion's share of the homeless need something much more complicated: meaningful, long term treatment for mental health and substance abuse issues. Decades ago we shuttered our asylums in the interest of being humane. And, perhaps, rightfully so. But we did it without a plan as to where these folks would live. We now have our answer: they live on the street.

6 people like this
Posted by Congrats
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 1, 2017 at 9:54 pm

We're 26 percent more attractive to the homeless?
We must be doing something right!

4 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Jul 1, 2017 at 10:43 pm


[Portion removed.] Considering the housing options for anyone making less than 30k why wouldn't there be a significant number of working homeless?

28 people like this
Posted by Jim
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 2, 2017 at 7:22 pm

Yeah, the numbers seemed skewed. Palo Alto's homeless rate up 26 percent? I doubt those are former Palo Alto residents who have lost their homes and are now on Palo Alto streets. The number has to reflect an increase of homeless who have decided to make Palo Alto their home. That's true for every city in the Bay Area. There is no way to tell how many local residents have become homeless and are now homeless in their own city. These numbers just reflect how many people are homeless and where they are "living." Obviously, there are more homeless people than ever before. So, how do we fix the problem. That's up to the local governments and they all should make it a priority.....more so than spending $9.5 million for bike lanes in Palo Alto.

20 people like this
Posted by Development brings them in
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 3, 2017 at 11:26 am

Don't forget that the more developed an area becomes the more homeless people it attracts. They come for the handouts, the places to sleep, and the fact that they can "hide" amongst the crowds. Get rid of over-development and too many people and they will go away. That will also have the effect of lowering housing prices since if there are fewer jobs here there will be less need for housing. This area is full and we need to step back to a sustainable population for the well being of the residents and the well being of the environment.

12 people like this
Posted by Neilson Buchanan
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 3, 2017 at 11:54 am

For the sake of clarity, lets break this discussion into two broad population groups.

First, the data establishes a group of citizens with the burden of social and health issues. Some of these burdens are recent; many are long standing. Historically our society has not yet been able to find (or commit to) sustaining solutions.

Second, affordability is an issue of citizens with widely varying levels of income. This is worldwide problem. Rich countries and poor countries struggle for solutions. Problem is spread among the richest and poorest counties in the US. For the record, I live in one of the richest counties and was raised in one of the poorest cited by City Lab [Sunflower County, MS]. These two extremes are real and embedded. See City Lab article below.

Web Link

In my opinion…small, autonomous jurisdictions like Palo Alto won't make meaningful policy changes for sustaining solutions. Regionality is the hurdle..not locality.
Palo Alto Council, periodically well intentioned, will occasionally nibble on the edges of affordability but market forces will bid up all housing costs in a market with job/housing imbalances as massive as Palo Alto’s.

16 people like this
Posted by Questions
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 3, 2017 at 12:07 pm

It also sounds like they are applying greater resources to counting the homeless. I wonder if it is an actual increase in homeless people or if the increase reflects a more aggressive effort to get an accurate count. Regardless, that is not to say we should not address these important issues.

It's interesting that Los Altos which provides almost zero homeless services has so few homeless. I would appreciate it if the reporters would cover what each community contributes to homeless services beyond what the county funds (this is the county's responsibility, but I know that Palo Alto, Mountain View and Sunnyvale do extra to support homeless in our community), including housing, medical and psychiatric care, food. Also, how many beds are provided in each city for the homeless? Please include Los Altos on this list. This is a regional problem.

15 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 3, 2017 at 12:11 pm

@Neilson Buchanan, absolutely. The jobs/housing imbalance recently rose from 3:1 to 4:1 and continues to to soar, making housing even less affordable and draining our personal pockets to support it.

It's said that San Francisco has 3 main political bases; the homeless lobby, the bike lobby and developers. Vamdalism and car break-ins are so endemic in SF now that the DA refuses to prosecute so they continue and increase. GPS can't keep up with all the new bike lanes so lots of people are getting $250 tickets. Cars from "no-car" buildings are spilling over into nearby neighborhoods, causing parking wars.

Shades of PA's future.

3 people like this
Posted by R. Winslow
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 3, 2017 at 12:34 pm

PA provides a relatively safe and convenient residency for the homeless. Who could blame them? It certainly beats Oakland or SF.

Maybe if some of the wealthier residents living in their overpriced $4.5M+ homes chipped in via a homeless tax assessment, we could keep the itinerants from clear sight (much to the relief of countless businesses and other 'bent out of shape' residents).

Not everyone can live the American Dream via upscale PA standards.

6 people like this
Posted by So Sorry
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 3, 2017 at 2:36 pm

This situation is sad indeed. People keep coming to Palo Alto looking for work and housing. Let's get real.
This town basically has neither.
How can we get the word around? Perhaps this would help. Just don't come here. Doubtful you will find either.
So Sorry

7 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Jul 3, 2017 at 2:46 pm

@So Sorry

The people coming to Palo Alto by definition can afford it. It's the people already here, renters, those on fixed incomes, seniors, etc. that you're telling to leave.

1 person likes this
Posted by Richard
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 3, 2017 at 3:23 pm

Obviously the homelessness and near homelessness is a problem, but if Palo Alto residents gave a ton of money to help, the obvious reactions from the homeless people in other cities would be to come to Palo Alto and therefore we would have even a bigger problem in Palo Alto. No this is a regional problem and should be handled in such a way so that the problem is shared by all of Peninsula cities. This is also true in regards to RV's on city streets. The big question that is not being answered is what would we do if the funds were there? Add Mental Health facilities for the homeless? Add free or below market housing or RV parks up and down the Peninsula that will go to the lucky winners of lotteries? Offer the homeless jobs that hey may not be qualified for so they will have enough money to pay for some of the cost of living on the unaffordable Peninsula. There are many examples in the United States where the government threw money at a problem where the providers of these services did much better with the money than those receiving the services. I, for one, do not know what the solution is but whatever we come up with, we should decide collaboratively with our neighbors and with the homeless as well, so that we find a solution that we can all be happy with. Hey Brian Let's create a county commission to study the homeless problem and lets all work together to find solutions. I am happy to be a part of that process.

5 people like this
Posted by R. Winslow
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 3, 2017 at 6:40 pm

Create a homeless encampment and KOA-inspired campground for itinerant RVs on some unused/unleased industrial property in PA. Have foot/bike patrol police officers monitor the living environment 24/7. Set-up some porta-potties and maybe an overstock-supplied food distribution to the needy. The SC Health Dept. could stop by periodically for medical check-ups and inoculations while encouraging that all qualified residents sign-up for Medi-Caid.

That's what we pay taxes for.

3 people like this
Posted by Fred P.
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 3, 2017 at 11:06 pm

Take the count again after the RVs are gone and it will be lower.

Like this comment
Posted by zap
a resident of another community
on Jul 4, 2017 at 1:16 am

[Post removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by Richard
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 4, 2017 at 8:31 am

Web Link

This looks like a good start


2 people like this
Posted by Fellow voyager
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 4, 2017 at 2:41 pm

@Homelessness has nothing to do with being able to save money
I know what you mean about over-population and the challenge of keeping going - there's truth it it - but you sound really oppressed by things and unhappy. Of course I don't know your circumstances, but life can be more than just getting by, and don't let yourself settle. I guess I wanted to say that I'm sorry that you seem to feel so down. It does matter.

Like this comment
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 4, 2017 at 2:55 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@Richard - They are adding 7,000 employees, and putting up a fund of 20 million. That's less than 3,000 per added employee, so I'd say it's not a good start, it's making things worse. They'll be lucky to get a few hundred housing units built which does nothing to offset the thousands of additional commuters.

2 people like this
Posted by Richard
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 4, 2017 at 3:19 pm


It may be a small amount, but far better than most employers in the Silicon Valley. We need to get some help from all employers, city and county governments and the Universities to provide more affordable housing on the Peninsula. It should be a collaborative effort. Let's work together.

3 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 4, 2017 at 4:48 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@Richard - No, it isn't just a small amount, it is a net negative when they bring in 7,000 additional employees. It is the kind of lousy deal that got us in this mess in the first place. We don't need this kind of "help".

3 people like this
Posted by Shameful
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 5, 2017 at 5:45 am

Obviously homelessness is a chronic problem that is difficult to solve. However, ignoring it doesn't make it go away. Caring for our residents is a government's purpose, and yes, most of them are Santa Clara County residents and some are Palo Alto residents. It is shameful for Palo Alto, or any individual city, to just do nothing. Shelter, treatment, and support are key to both transitional homelessness, as well as long-term chronic homelessness.

Keep in mind the above stats are clearly under-reported. Counting the homeless is challenge, and doesn't include the couch surfers or those that do not want to be found.

1 person likes this
Posted by TLM
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 6, 2017 at 12:34 pm


Just for the sake of accuracy, the article you quoted about Facebook's 7,000 employees is a TOTAL amount of employees, not an "additional" number.
"Facebook alone is expected to increase the employee count of its Menlo Park offices to over 7,000 in the coming months."
According to the link inside that article, there are currently about 4,600 FB employees at the Menlo Park campus, so they are expanding by about 2,400 extra employees who will need to find housing.

7 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 6, 2017 at 12:54 pm

As of 12/32/16. FB had 17,000 total employees, not 7,000, so it's
Web Link

Google recently announced hiring 20,000 more people and adding 300 trailer homes for employees at Moffett Field. That's a net negative for housing by a long shot.

6 people like this
Posted by TLM
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 6, 2017 at 1:14 pm

The number that is significant is the number of FB employees at its Menlo Park campus (4600 increasing to 7,000), not the number of worldwide employees.

But the continued trend for net negative housing is very worrisome. There have been numerous articles about local restaurants and other businesses that all of us locals rely on, struggling to find anyone to do the low paying jobs. Finding affordable housing for tech employees is hard enough. But the imbalance of finding close-in reasonable housing for those necessary employees on the low end of the payscale will get much worse.
Unfortunately, the homeless who are already here but are struggling with mental illness and/or addictions are not the kind of employees these businesses need.

11 people like this
Posted by @TLM
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 6, 2017 at 6:13 pm

Clearly there are too many jobs for the infrastructure to handle. How do we decrease the number of jobs?

2 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 8, 2017 at 10:37 am

"How do we decrease the number of jobs?"

Are you serious? Sounds like people prefer to be in 2010 Detroit, where your house, instead of being worth millions, is worth pennies. Where shops are closing down due to lack of economic activity. Where entire neighborhoods are being razed to reduce the cost of services to the community.

Talk about silly statements. And it still won't get your bowling alley back.

Posted by Boom
a resident of Midtown

on Jul 8, 2017 at 11:08 am

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Posted by Richard
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 8, 2017 at 12:17 pm

Me 2 you are right.

Two many jobs is not the problem. The problem is that housing is not keeping up with the pace of job development and housing often lags. Affordable housing may be a different problem in the Bay Area and the Peninsula as this is a very desireable place to live because of job opportunities and the way of life in California as well as the weather is very encouraging for people to live here. This leads to a high demand for housing and in that environment prices rise for sales and rentals. So using the logic that we should decrease the number of jobs, we should also encourage a decrease in the life style benefits in California and hope for bad weather. Nope, we need to find ways to build housing that is affordable and keep up with the pace of job growth. This probably means higher density, taller buildings on the Peninsula, and with those undesireable elements, more public transportation will be needed as there is only so much car traffic we can handle.

8 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 8, 2017 at 1:34 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@ Richard - It is ridiculous to advocate increasing density on the peninsula when there obviously isn't the infrastructure to support it. Doubly so when we are within 30 miles of three major urban centers that are vastly more appropriate locations for more jobs and housing. San Jose is connected by CalTrain, VTA light rail, 280, 880, 680, 87, 101, and in a couple years BART. But we're going to put offices in the suburban edge of Santa Clara instead of the center?? The goal isn't to decrease jobs, it is to shift offices to appropriate urban centers.

8 people like this
Posted by unemployment
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 8, 2017 at 9:40 pm

Sounds like the main problem is unemployment: 90% of the homeless in Santa Clara County are unemployed. Adding more housing won't make a dent in the problem. Either folks who were previously employed and residing in the area become homeless or, more likely, unemployed and homeless folks chose to relocate to an area known for its good weather, safety and services.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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