News

New homeless census shows a spike in population living in vehicles

Job loss, alcohol and drug abuse top the list of reasons for homelessness, survey says

The percentage of homeless people living in their vehicles in Santa Clara County has more than doubled in the past two years, accounting for 18% of the county's unhoused population, according to a new Santa Clara County homeless census.

In 2017, people using their vans, cars, campers or RVs as homes totaled only 8% of the homeless, the same rate as in 2015.

Those 1,750 vehicle dwellers are among the 9,700 individuals across Santa Clara County who were identified as homeless in January as part of a biennial Point in Time count.

The census quantifies what local cities have been grappling with for several years — growing numbers of RVs lining the streets — which has sparked debate over law enforcement, public safety, the housing crisis and how best to extend a helping hand.

East Palo Alto recently launched a safe-parking program to provide space and services for residents living in vehicles. The Palo Alto City Council earlier this summer agreed to explore a similar pilot program, potentially involving land east of U.S. Highway 101.

Overall, the county's population of homeless increased by 31% from 2017, the census determined. Palo Alto saw its numbers of homeless rise 13% in that time, from 276 to 313 individuals. The figure includes persons staying in parks, shelters, motels or hotels, and structures not normally used for sleeping.

The rise was more pronounced in Mountain View, jumping from 416 people up to 606, a 46% increase. The increase was even larger for Sunnyvale: 371 more homeless, a 147% spike in the past two years.

Even Los Altos Hills, among the richest towns in the U.S., reported its first-ever homeless population: two individuals.

Conducted every two years, the Point in Time census is performed by sending out dozens of volunteers to canvass streets to count as many homeless individuals as they can find. County officials have spent the last six months finalizing the results of the January census.

Beyond the on-the-street count, volunteers administered surveys between Jan. 29 and Feb. 28 to a randomized sample of individuals and families currently experiencing homelessness, which captured demographic information and details including causes of homelessness and the services they use.

Respondents ranked the top reasons for their homelessness as job loss (30%), alcohol or drug use (22%), divorce/separation/breakup (15%), eviction (14%) and argument/asked to leave by family or friend (13%).

One-third of the survey respondents said this was their first experience of being homeless, and just under half said they could have stayed in their homes if they had had some kind of basic rental assistance.

"The reasons for homelessness are many and varied," said Joe Simitian, president of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, in a press release. "The high cost and shortage of housing are making a bad problem worse. Combining our efforts to prevent homelessness and create supportive housing with 2016 Measure A — Affordable Housing Bond — funds will continue to be an essential strategy in addressing homelessness. So far, the County has committed $234 million of Measure A funds toward 19 housing developments that will collectively add 1,437 apartments for the most vulnerable in our community."

While the percentage of people living in vehicles rose sharply in two years, there was a commensurate drop in the numbers of people living in emergency or transitional housing: from 36% of the homeless population in 2017 to 22% in 2019, according to the survey.

The Santa Clara County census results mirror the trends being reported in other Bay Area counties. Compared to 2017, homelessness increased by 30% in San Francisco, 45% in Alameda, and 21% in San Mateo counties.

Palo Alto Human Relations Commissioner Steven Lee said the numbers in Palo Alto do not surprise him.

"We have seen the count go up across the Bay Area and California. Homelessness is a symptom of our region's much larger housing crisis and was the inevitable result of the collective inaction of local city councils across the Bay Area, including our own, to build housing," he said, speaking as an individual and not on behalf of the commission, which hasn't officially taken action on the issue.

At the HRC retreat last month Lee asked that the commission make homelessness one its top priorities for the next fiscal year. On July 11, Lee was named to lead the commission's homeless initiatives.

"I look forward to studying the report and inviting the county, other government agencies, nonprofits, local stakeholders and members of the unhoused population to testify before the commission, so we can learn more about what Palo Alto can do to address homelessness in our community.

"Many of our neighboring cities have already taken action to begin addressing homelessness in their communities. It's time for Palo Alto to catch up, to do its fair share and to more seriously address the issue of homelessness and housing in our community. It is one of THE defining moral and economic issues of our time and region," he said.

Who is living in RVs along Palo Alto's El Camino Real? Read their stories at PaloAltoOnline.Atavist.com.

Watch or listen to a discussion about the people in the El Camino Real RVs on the Weekly's webcast, "Behind the Headlines." Weekly journalists Veronica Weber, Cierra Bailey and Jocelyn Dong discuss how the residents manage day-to-day life, their encounters with the police, their housing prospects and more. The show is now available on our YouTube channel and podcast page.

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Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Mark Noack writes for the Mountain View Voice, the sister publication of PaloAltoOnline.com.

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Comments

65 people like this
Posted by Joyce
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 13, 2019 at 3:22 pm

Hello,

It's dangerous for these campers, trailers, etc. to be parked on El Camino Real.

VTA oversized/double-sized and Stanford Marguerite buses, UPS trucks, cement trucks, dirt hauler trucks (due to all the construction), cars, etc., need to drive in TWO LANES TO GET PAST THE CAMPERS/TRAILERS PARKED ON EL CAMINO.

Today, I was almost run off of El Camino, as a VTA bus needed to drive in two lanes to get past a huge blue bus and trailer, both of which have been parked in the same location on El Camino Real

Since July 2, 2019 a huge blue school bus, with broken windows has been parked on El Camino near Maybell Ave, License # 6VMJ483, and a trailer was dumped in this same location, on July 9, 2019, License # HH6595. Kids are attending camps at the pre-schools, elementary, middle and high schools in this area.

These vehicles have been parked for more than 72 hours, and yet, they are still parked in this same location.

On this stretch of El Camino Real, bicyclists riding on El Camino, are squeezed between the campers parked on El Camino and vehicles traveling on this road. It's a dangerous stretch of road.


13 people like this
Posted by Homelessness is a safety concern
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 14, 2019 at 9:00 pm

Heaven forbid someone seek shelter on YOUR road. The 1 second when you felt scared must’ve been really hard, Joyce. Those poor people should go somewhere else...wherever that is. The mythical elsewhere. Sounds wonderful. Somewhere else, that the ticket!


18 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 15, 2019 at 9:34 am

Posted by Homelessness is a safety concern, a resident of Barron Park

>> Heaven forbid someone seek shelter on YOUR road.

ROAD is the operative word.

The road belongs to the public, not the RV that is illegally occupying it. It is a state highway, and, it happens to be three lanes wide in that stretch, plus, a parking/breakdown/shoulder area. I'm not enthusiastic about how auto-centric we are around here, but, if that state highway only needs two lanes in that stretch, let's convert the additional public right of way to light rail to make it an actual, true transportation corridor. In no case does it make sense for that extremely useful right-of-way to be a parking lot for RVs, and, the people who allowed it to devolve into that should be ashamed of themselves.

>> The 1 second when you felt scared must’ve been really hard, Joyce. Those poor people should go somewhere else...wherever that is. The mythical elsewhere. Sounds wonderful. Somewhere else, that the ticket!

A while back, some of the RVs made a habit of extending their driver's side pullout (dining room seating, bedroom, whatever) into the right hand lane. Very dumb. Fortunately, I haven't seen that lately, but, the giant construction trucks and buses don't always have enough room in the right lane.


7 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 15, 2019 at 10:30 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

[Portion removed.] People who use El Camino on a daily basis are impacted.
I wish people would define what the level of impact is to them so that their comments can be evaluated in light of the impact. As to Barron Park I have driven through that area and it has very close streets that are not amenable to RV's to begin with. I can't see that specific area as being inundated because it does not have regular sidewalks and streets. It is very country.


23 people like this
Posted by Barry
a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 15, 2019 at 2:02 pm

The homeless numbers are up in Mountain View, Palo Alto and the entire Bay Area despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent on ending homeless. According to a report released by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute it would cost $12.7 billion to eliminate homelessness in the Bay Area which is one-fourth of the State’s homeless population. It would cost $50 billion to eliminate homelessness statewide and who knows how many hundreds of billions more to move people out of the threat of becoming homeless; families who are living pay check to pay check. And Governor Gavin Newsom wants us, Californians, to believe that his $1 billion dollar spending spree will have a meaningful effect of mitigating the homeless crisis. There will be some token success stories to deceive the naive however the only people who will make out like bandits will be the homeless service providers who are dependent upon the continued existence of the homeless to ensure they get their sizable share of that $1 billion. Year after year, decade after decade the more money that is spent on ending homelessness actually causes homelessness to grow even worse. Something is not working and yet Gov. Newsom wants to continue to apply that which does not work.


Web Link


4 people like this
Posted by VS
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 15, 2019 at 5:17 pm

VS is a registered user.

Maybe we should call them 'houseless', instead of 'homeless'. To many of these folks, their RV is their home. Home implies something more soulful. They do have a home, just not a house.


11 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 15, 2019 at 11:17 pm

I cannot believe 39 recommendations so far for someone who says the danger is basically her own driving because she cannot drive past the RVs parked on El Camino without going into the next lane.

This must be one of the drivers I see driving down the middle of the road on Channing or Homer in their giant SUVs. I don't know, I've never had a problem missing RVs on El Camino. Sounds like another fake argument ... fake news perhaps?


Like this comment
Posted by Shawn
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Jul 16, 2019 at 6:21 am

Shallow Alto at its finest. RV's are blocking El camino.?


10 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 16, 2019 at 7:11 am

Always go into the next lane, because if you hit someone suddenly stepping out from between those completely visibility-blocking RVs, it is your fault.


7 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 16, 2019 at 8:53 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

I like the point about the giant SUV's. Any parking lot at any shopping center has the parking space line drawn up for mid-size cars. Also the lanes in the street are drawn up for mid-size cars in the non-commercial sections of the city. I can see spaces in the parking lots that I do not want to use because my car will be dinged when other people will be getting in or out of their giant SUV's. For any attempt to go forward there are unbelievable forces dragging every one backward.

For starters - we have the city of San Jose tearing itself apart so it can build a giant Google city. This goes back to prior times when there were company towns. But if the company leaves then the town collapses. Long time small family businesses are being displaced.

Sunnyvale has an uptick in homeless - is that coincidental with all of the building that is going on there? Why does city expansion and building somehow accelerate the degree of homeless? Does the impending degree of city expansion some how suggest that the city is now richer and therefore more able to provide housing and services for the homeless?

Palo Alto was built out before all of the other cities affected because of the proximity to SU. This city was built around the support system for the university. Remember that next time other cities pitch comments about the city - we were built out before anyone else on the peninsula. Don't get dragged into comments about nimbyism.


7 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 16, 2019 at 9:45 am

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, a resident of Adobe-Meadow

>> For starters - we have the city of San Jose tearing itself apart so it can build a giant Google city. This goes back to prior times when there were company towns. But if the company leaves then the town collapses. Long time small family businesses are being displaced.

Unfortunately, we live in a semi-plutocracy, where the top 10% control most of the governance, own 70%, or 76%, or [several large % choices] of all wealth, and an even greater fraction of the income. Cisco, Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, ... a huge amount of revenue flows through these large corporations to the top 10%, while the bottom 50% own very little.

Pushing these giant companies to contribute to housing in these quasi-company-towns is a way to redirect some of the income of the rich towards the middle class. It seems to be the only politically acceptable way to do it right now. The highly-graduated income tax (see Eisenhower-- who would be a "leftist" by today's standards), did a much better job of it, but, the super-rich have spent the last 50 years de-clawing it.


1 person likes this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 16, 2019 at 11:54 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

So let's go back in time. What is now SSL on Fabian used to be Ford Aerospace and Communications Corp. They consumed the whole space which includes the Oshman Center and buildings on the East Meadow Circle and across the freeway on Charleston. Much of South PA was housing for this organization. Then the Government decided that it had too many defense organizations to keep afloat and wanted to reduce the number of contract sources. Ford sold to Loral who made a number of bad business decisions. Those bad decisions ended up in a sale of a part of the contracts to Lockheed Martin and another part to another organization. And if you have not noticed Lockheed Martin has moved a number of contracts to different locations in the country so reducing the number of employees in this area. That is a CA tax issue at play.

We can go back further in time to McDonnell Douglas who had facilities at what is now the Santa Monica Airport. That facility was moved to Huntington Beach and eventually sold to Boeing. We can celebrate because all directly involved in the space programs. Of course that then created a housing boom in Huntington Beach.
So major companies can make major decisions based on what the current need is for their products and the general state of government finances. And those decisions drive the housing market.

It would be helpful if some of the companies could locate a part of their product line to outlying areas in the central valley. Cheaper homes, less taxes. And less taxes is a key issue.


4 people like this
Posted by Kenny
a resident of University South
on Jul 16, 2019 at 1:10 pm

"The road belongs to the public"

And the people parked on the side of the road are members of the public.

"The homeless numbers are up in Mountain View, Palo Alto and the entire Bay Area despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent on ending homeless."

That is because the NIMBYs have repeatedly stalled housing development. Less housing means higher rents, more housing means more affordable rents. Don't want people living in RVs? Build affordable housing.


3 people like this
Posted by Not a NIMBY issue
a resident of Ventura
on Jul 16, 2019 at 7:14 pm

“That is because the NIMBYs have repeatedly stalled housing development. Less housing means higher rents, more housing means more affordable rents. Don't want people living in RVs? Build affordable housing.”

This is rhetoric, not logic. ‘Those damn NIMBYs! It’s all their fault!’

Suppose these RV dwellers could rent a unit as big as their RV for 2500/month. That’s quite affordable for this area.

Would they do it?


3 people like this
Posted by In The Public Interest
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 16, 2019 at 11:52 pm

The interviews w the RV residents show many are working in the bay area due to higher pay here. They have homes elsewhere that they return to on the weekend. They aren't homeless. And it's temporary.


11 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 17, 2019 at 9:11 am

Posted by Kenny, a resident of University South

>> "The road belongs to the public"

>> And the people parked on the side of the road are members of the public.

Sure, and, if the public wants to allow a tent city on the shoulder pavement of ECR, it can do that. But, the point you keep ignoring is that RVs have no special rights or privileges. They have to obey the law. Whatever the public decides. If the public decides that RVs are the BMR housing of the future, well, that would be really stupid of the public, but, if that is the law, so be it. But, the reality today is that RVs are illegally occupying the road. RVs have a lot of negative externalities, Web Link, are an inefficient use of an expensive resource, and, should be deconstructed and recycled.

>> "The homeless numbers are up in Mountain View, Palo Alto and the entire Bay Area despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent on ending homeless."

>> That is because the NIMBYs have repeatedly stalled housing development. Less housing means higher rents, more housing means more affordable rents. Don't want people living in RVs? Build affordable housing.

No, it isn't. Developers can develop all the affordable housing they want. They don't, because, they don't make as much money doing it as they do developing luxury housing and, of course, office space. If you believe that NIMBYs are the source of the problem, then, you've been deceived by developer propaganda. Don't drink the Kool-Aid.


4 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 17, 2019 at 11:38 am

"Developers can develop all the affordable housing they want."

Seriously? Some people really live in their own little bubble.


Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 17, 2019 at 11:48 am

Posted by Me 2, a resident of Old Palo Alto

>> "Developers can develop all the affordable housing they want."
>> Seriously? Some people really live in their own little bubble.

Web Link

Web Link


4 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 17, 2019 at 12:02 pm

I guess you don't read the articles - just the headlines? Also, not impressed by internet linking to buttress a point. Anyone can do that.

From your first link:
"Rising construction costs and flattening rents have made development increasingly difficult"

From your second link:
"Mountain View's mayor, however, told KTVU at the meeting, that the developer's project met all of the city's zoning requirements."

Bottom line is that with all the neighborhood activism (see: Maybell) and the increasing cost of building (see: new demo recycling ordinance that just passed), developers can't pencil out affordable housing. That's why PAHC has to do it so they get government funding to subsidize construction.

In the end we have just squeezed out the middle class - people who qualify for BMRs will get theirs. Rich people will always be able to afford to pay. Middle class? See them commute from Manteca.


7 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 17, 2019 at 12:27 pm

Posted by Me 2, a resident of Old Palo Alto

>> I guess you don't read the articles - just the headlines?

Actually, I did. I could quote them at length, but, the bottom line is that developers don't make money building affordable housing. In fact, sometimes they make money tearing down affordable housing and replacing it with higher-end housing. And, they make money building office buildings.

>> Also, not impressed by internet linking to buttress a point. Anyone can do that.

It is called "evidence".

>> Bottom line is [...] developers can't pencil out affordable housing.

We are agreed. But, you don't want to admit that the elephant in the room is an elephant. We are suffering a major market failure. The market is signaling developers to do the wrong thing. Developers are building new office buildings whose occupants will have to commute from Manteca, as you admit below:

>> In the end we have just squeezed out the middle class - people who qualify for BMRs will get theirs. Rich people will always be able to afford to pay. Middle class? See them commute from Manteca.

OBTW, "the market" includes the wrongheaded city governments around here who are actively encouraging more office space development when the workers will have to commute from Manteca.


1 person likes this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 17, 2019 at 4:12 pm

"We are suffering a major market failure."

Actually we are suffering a major regulatory failure. Continually more restrictive policies that make construction more expensive and, of course, Prop 13.


10 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 17, 2019 at 6:11 pm

Posted by Me 2, a resident of Old Palo Alto

>> Actually we are suffering a major regulatory failure.

Correct about that. We keep allowing construction of new office space when the workers will be commuting by auto from Tracy. The expectation that land can and will be developed as office space drives up the price so that new affordable apartments will never be constructed on that land. Excessive office space development has led directly to the RV problem.

-No more office space.-


6 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 17, 2019 at 6:43 pm

Yay for 13.
It’s the way I can afford to live here.
Repeal 13 and ifd be living in an RV.


5 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 17, 2019 at 6:53 pm

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

>> Yay for 13.
>> It’s the way I can afford to live here.
>> Repeal 13 and ifd be living in an RV.

Anyone can be Anon. Anon's arguments stand on their own. That was a different Anon than me, Anon, however. In my case, I will vote to repeal Prop 13 if the corporations and their plutocratic masters ever give me a chance to vote on it. Which, they don't plan to.


8 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 17, 2019 at 7:40 pm

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

>> I will vote to repeal Prop 13

Then you will put many of us out of our homes.
Nice thinking.


5 people like this
Posted by C.Walters
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 18, 2019 at 11:59 am

osted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

>> Anyone can be Anon.
>> That was a different Anon than me,

You should register if you want a unique name for posting.
Short of that, use your real name and community.


4 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 18, 2019 at 1:09 pm

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

>> I will vote to repeal Prop 13

>> Then you will put many of us out of our homes. Nice thinking.

Repealing Prop 13, the chief beneficiaries of which are corporations and the super-rich, doesn't necessarily imply that other, more logical ameliorations could not be implemented. It just has to be more thoughtfully designed so that the chief beneficiaries won't be the super-rich including out-of-state and even out-of-the-country super-rich. A reasonable approach, given California real-estate prices, would be a graduated tax on owner-occupied houses, resulting in ~25% say, of the general rate, for the first $1M, and ~50%, for a $2M house. Corporations pay the full rate. Other adjustments could be that property tax only pays for services that protect property property-- police, fire, flood control, etc., and income tax be increased to pay for other budget items. Lots of options. Prop 13 was sold, -I remember it well-, as this thing to protect the middle class, and the result has been to protect the rich and rich corporations. Law of unintended consequences.


1 person likes this
Posted by better paid
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 18, 2019 at 1:49 pm

It appears that at this point every incoming better paid employee companies hire will effectively displace someone who already lives here but is less well paid. All the way down the line. Within a reasonable time frame, does anyone really think it is possible for housing construction to keep up with the rapidly expanding population created by certain large companies without continuing to create a rapidly increasing homeless population? Why are local politicians supporting the continuing expansion of commercial space? Oh yes, some of them have strong ties, either professional or personal to the office building industry, and then there is the benefit of substantial donations to election campaigns.


14 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 18, 2019 at 7:45 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

I am sick and tired of the Nimby name calling. When FACC got sold to LM we were moved to the old Atari buildings in San Jose. We were surrounded by fields. We watched as new buildings went up. And new apartment complexes. There was nothing there before, whereas Palo Alto was totally built out. If you do not get that then too bad but it is fact - PA was built out when the rest of the valley was fields. So the rest of the valley can build itself out to it's borders now - we have done our part in the great Silicon Valley experiment. The rest can catchup at their own pace.


2 people like this
Posted by Moochie
a resident of another community
22 hours ago

"I am sick and tired of the Nimby name calling."

Sometimes the truth hurts.


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