Bay Area homeless populations continue to rise with some staggering figures

- San Francisco Mayor London Breed Thursday announced a $5 million investment to prevent homelessness in her city as a count shows it rose. 

Initial results of the count showed a 17 percent increase in homelessness in San Francisco since 2017, though veteran homelessness fell by 14 percent and youth homelessness dropped by 10 percent. 

Breed said the $5 million will be included in the 2019 budget and pay for interventions such as family reunification, move-in assistance and, among other aims, flexible grants related to housing and employment. 

The efforts are meant to keep people from becoming homeless and help newly homeless find housing quickly. 

Breed said more needs to be done to provide shelter, get people off the streets and prevent people from becoming homeless. She said when targeted efforts are made, progress can happen as the drop in youth and veteran homelessness shows. 

In a statement she said, "We desperately need to build more housing, especially badly needed affordable housing and supportive housing, because we know that high housing costs contribute to an increase in homelessness." 

Breed called for regional and statewide coordination to solve the problem.

Thursday San Jose and Santa Clara County released results from a count in their communities. Preliminary data show the number of homeless rose 31 percent in Santa Clara County (population now at 9,700) and 42 percent in San Jose (population of 6,100) in the last two years. 

Homelessness in Alameda County was up 43 percent (population of 8,000) over the same period, according to a report released Thursday. 

On an unseasonably cold night, Pastor Scott Wagers of CHAM Deliverance Ministry passes out hamburgers to the homeless camped off First Street, underneath Highway 87 in downtown San Jose.

“This weather, we are going to have rain for the next five days,” said Delphina Alvarez who is homeless. “I’m not prepared. I’m freezing. It's really cold out here.”

Alvarez is among the hungry. The San Jose woman said she suffers from multiple sclerosis and is unable to hold down a job. She’s called a tent her home for three years.

City officials said for every one person they house, three more people fall into homelessness.

“I think the numbers are unacceptable but not surprising,” said Ragan Henninger of the City of San Jose Housing Department. 

The City of San Jose’s Housing Department said the increasing disparity between the high cost of living and wage stagnation is to blame.

However, San Jose officials point to successes with 19 affordable housing projects underway. Last week, the city opened a permanently supportive housing development on 2nd and Keyes Streets, getting more than 100 people off the streets.

“We know the answer is housing,” said Henninger. “We just need to build it at a greater scale than we are doing right now.”

Homeless advocates said the city needs to do more than build affordable housing like establish legal encampments and house the homeless in vacant buildings.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese said more resources need to be spent on transitional housing. He believes every neighborhood needs to be on board to address the crisis.

“Shared responsibility is a big issue,” said Cortese. “If we don't get to that point, this problem is only going to get worse.”

San Francisco's count was conducted on Jan. 24, 2019, for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and is something the city is required to do every two years. 

In the 2017 count, 6,858 people were homeless in San Francisco. This year the number was 8,011.  

Breed's office said the increase was largely due to a jump in the number of people living in vehicles, up 68 percent. The number of homeless in shelters was also up since the city has opened more shelters. 

In a statement, Jeff Kositsky, director of the San Francisco Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, said he is pleased with the reductions in youth and veteran homelessness but "saddened that there are more people living without housing in San Francisco." 

He said the city helped more than 4,000 people exit homelessness since the last count but clearly much more needs to be done. 

Breed's office said city officials hope to open 300 more shelter beds this year and 500 more in 2020. City officials are also expanding the Vehicle Encampment Resolution Team, which helps people living in vehicles access services and get a housing.

Three hundred new supportive housing units are scheduled to open this year and 1,000 more are in the planning stages. 

The complete report detailing this year's count in San Francisco will be released July 1. A more expansive count is done by the city, but the HUD count is consistent with what other counties do and helps with comparisons statewide. 

City and county officials in the South Bay remain optimistic that these numbers will go down. Voters approved a housing bond Measure A in 2016 with $700 million going toward housing the homeless.

KTVU's Azenith Smith contributed to this report.

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