In a sign of bad things getting worse, hundreds more newly homeless individuals are living in Mountain View and several other cities, according to the results of a new Santa Clara County homeless census. The new data compiled as part of the biennial Point in Time count paints a picture of desperation, showing that two-thirds of Santa Clara County's homeless are living on the streets because they can't afford housing.
As reported previously, more than 9,700 homeless individuals were counted across Santa Clara County, a 31% increase in just the last two years. But the rise is even more pronounced in Mountain View and several cities in the affluent North County. Since 2017, Mountain View's homeless population jumped from 416 up to 606, a 46% increase. The city now hosts the fourth largest homeless population in the county.
The new numbers are even more jarring for other South Bay cities. Sunnyvale, Palo Alto, Milpitas and Los Altos -- cities blamed for driving their homeless populations off to other areas -- all are reporting their own significant increases. Homelessness increased by 41 people in Palo Alto (13%) and by 59 in Milpitas (89%).
The numbers skyrocketed for Los Altos, jumping from just two homeless people in 2017, up to 76 this year. The increase is even larger for Sunnyvale: 371 more homeless, a 147% spike in the past two years.
Even stately Los Altos Hills, among the richest towns in the U.S., reported its first-ever homeless population: two individuals. The tiny town of Monte Sereno now appears to be the only community in Santa Clara County still reporting zero homeless people.
Conducted every two years, the Point in Time census is performed by sending out dozens of volunteers to canvass every street in the county to count as many homeless individuals as they can find. This year's count was conducted in January, and county officials have spent the last six months finalizing the results.
By nature, the count's methodology is imprecise, and experts say that any results should be interpreted as a drastic undercount compared to the true number. For example, the street-by-street survey data may include people camping in parks or living in vehicles, but there is no way it can capture homeless individuals who are couch-surfing or squatting in non-residential buildings.
The Santa Clara County increases mirror other dire homeless numbers 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.
The new data on homelessness shouldn't come as any surprise to Mountain View residents. Over the last two years, the widespread increase in people living out of their vehicles on city streets has made homelessness into a top issue for elected leaders.
But city officials have struggled to stem the problem. A safe-parking program has inched forward, but still lacks capacity to take in anything close to the approximately 300 inhabited vehicles spread throughout the city. Meanwhile, city officials intend to begin restricting street parking for large RVs and trailers in the coming months, leading some to allege that Mountain View is trying to shoo its homeless residents out of town.
The higher level of need in Mountain View is on display on a daily basis at the city's social-service centers, said Tom Myers, executive director of the Community Services Agency. The high homeless count should only come as a surprise to those communities that "have been hiding their heads in the sand," he said.
"The number of our homeless clients has also increased dramatically in the last two years, and these new numbers bear that out," he said. "This is due to the lack of affordable housing. We need housing for those who aren't making a ton of money."
The new report indicates that Mountain View's struggles could be seen as a microcosm for the South Bay as a whole. Across Santa Clara County, the number of people living out of vehicles has more than doubled in the last two years, increasing by more than 1,600 people.
Four out of five individuals who were surveyed say they lived in Santa Clara County prior to losing their housing. One-third of the survey respondents say this was their first experience of being homeless, and just under half say they could have stayed in their homes if they had some kind of basic rental assistance.
That data should be instructional for future aid programs, Myers said. It is far easier and cheaper to provide aid to struggling tenants so they can afford their rent or utilities, especially when compared to the huge costs taxpayers will face if that person becomes homeless.