Silicon Valley is a boomtown for millennial “innovators,” but it can be a tougher neighborhood for longtime residents who aren’t benefiting from the area’s profits. With a Trump administration poised to gut federal housing supports across the country, grassroots housing justice groups in California’s tech heartland are struggling to eke out lower-income residents.
For years there has been a dramatic contrast between the concentrated wealth and political influence of the creative classes and the swelling homeless epidemic in gentrifying cities like San Francisco and Oakland. Next-door to the houses of young tech startup executives, families sleep in parked cars, while many workers must pay more in rent than they earn in wages. The Guardian recently reported that in East Palo Alto, one-third of school children are estimated to be homeless, meaning they have no secure form of shelter. More than 10,000 homeless people were stranded across San Jose and Santa Clara Counties last year on any given night, including hundreds of families with children. And that number doesn’t include the “hidden homeless,” the countless people without their own shelter who “double up” at friends’ houses. Sprawling homeless encampments dot the Bay, and the crisis is so endemic in some communities, activists have begun establishing homeless trailer camps in church parking lots.
Though some people experiencing homelessness suffer from drug abuse and mental illness, many others are just ordinary working parents, excluded from the job market or priced out of the housing market. Though the speculative real estate spiral has eased slightly in recent years, renters struggle against structural economic barriers. Some 70 percent of survey residents in San Jose cited high rent as the primary cause of homelessness. A growing proportion, 15 percent, report not only prohibitively high rent but total lack of available housing, up from 11 percent in 2011—suggesting that housing is moving from unsustainable to outright inaccessible.