Will San Jose’s homeless count be higher than last year?

Will San Jose’s homeless count be higher than last year?
PATH social worker Mei Curry and her colleagues walked up and down Guadalupe River Trail in San Jose on Jan. 24, 2023 to tally the number of homeless people in the area. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

Hundreds of volunteers are searching San Jose streets to get an updated count of its homeless population.

Across Santa Clara County, roughly 300 volunteers, elected officials and unhoused people ventured out in 30-degree weather Tuesday morning to scour under bridges, along creeks and outside businesses to tally up homeless people living in the region. The biennial count, known as the “point-in-time†homeless count, is critical to understanding the homelessness crisis and identifying the needs of people on the streets.

The count is part of a federal requirement for Santa Clara County to receive roughly $30 million in funding for various homeless programs. The county conducted a count last year after delaying the 2021 count due to COVID-19.

Along Guadalupe River trail near the SAP Center, San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan and District 3 Councilmember Omar Torres joined a dozen city officials and workers from nonprofit People Assisting The Homeless (PATH) before dawn to participate in the count. The two-day event starts in cities like San Jose, Campbell and Milpitas and continues tomorrow in cities that include Mountain View and Cupertino.

PATH workers Mei Curry and Tara Blair with San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan and Councilmember Omar Torres. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

Mahan, who promised to address homelessness on the campaign trail, said the count is essential for San Jose to find solutions. He’s participated in past counts.

“We can’t develop common sense solutions to homelessness if we don’t understand the scope of the issue,†Mahan said. “This is a really important part of our city and county to understand how we’re trending, exactly who’s out here and what (the) situation is.â€

Santa Clara County and San Jose have grappled with the homelessness crisis for the past decade, as the region’s population continues to grow. As of last year, the county’s homeless population has grown 3% since 2019, totaling 10,028 people. San Jose recorded 6,650 homeless residents, an 8% increase over the same period.

Local officials are building more permanent and transitional housing, including tiny homes, to get residents off the streets. San Jose has helped roughly 700 people into housing through temporary projects, according to city data. City officials said such initiatives are proving to be successful, pointing to the drop in homeless people living outdoors—from 84% in 2019 to 75% last year. But advocates said the decrease is not significant enough.

With hundreds of temporary homes under construction and in the pipeline, officials hope San Jose can keep the momentum going.

“We are in a humanitarian crisis,†Torres said. â€œI am happy to be part of a city council that is offering solutions (where) hopefully we no longer have to do these counts.â€

The tally is often an undercount and just an estimation, but it still remains one of the best ways to assess the unhoused population, city and county officials said.

Some advocates worry this year’s count might be skewed. Recent storms and rain have pushed homeless people living along waterways to different areas, making it harder to locate and count them. County officials said the impact from the rain should be minimal.

“While the weather over the last several weeks did cause some unsheltered people to relocate, we are confident that working with experienced guides and outreach teams will ensure that we are able to conduct a count that is as accurate as possible,†Kathryn Kaminski, deputy director of the county’s Office of Supportive Housing, told San José Spotlight.

Mei Curry, a social worker with PATH, said her team has worked closely with the unhoused population along Guadalupe River Trail. The storms displaced some residents living along the waterways, but she said the majority found new spots under Highway 87.

“We’re out here four days a week,†Curry told San José Spotlight. “Most people want shelter and housing, so we work with them to connect them with the right resources and services.â€

Applied Survey Research, a contracted consultant company, manages the count and will produce a report that will be published later this year. Homeless residents will also help facilitate a follow-up survey in the next few weeks, which would collect demographic information such as age, race and gender, and ask if a person is living in a vehicle, why they fell into homelessness and what type of services they have received.

Original by Tran Nguyen for San Jose Spotlight.