[Note: This item comes from friend Mike Cheponis. DLH]
Homeless Lose a Longtime Last Resort: Living in a Car
Cities in Silicon Valley, Elsewhere Crack Down on Vehicle Dwellers Driven Out of Apartments by Rents
By ZUSHA ELINSON
Apr 8 2014
PALO ALTO, Calif.—In the three decades he worked as a software engineer in Silicon Valley, Fred Smith never imagined he would spend his golden years homeless.
But three years ago, Mr. Smith could no longer afford an apartment here, so he moved into an aging Winnebago camper. The 70-year-old showers at a gym where he has had a longtime membership. For most meals, he eats $1.20 orders of eggs or fish patties at McDonald’s.
As housing costs here have skyrocketed with the latest technology boom, Mr. Smith has found himself among thousands of people in Silicon Valley struggling to afford a place to live.
The San Jose/Santa Clara County region’s homeless population—about 7,600 on any given night, the fifth-highest among major metro areas—edged up in 2013, even as the number of homeless nationwide dropped, according to U.S. data. About 46% of the homeless here are living on the streets for the first time, while 48% previously rented or owned a home, according to a county survey.
At the same time, Silicon Valley incomes, rents and home prices have soared. In Palo Alto, home of Tesla Motors, TSLA -0.50% Hewlett-Packard HPQ-1.72% and Stanford University, average rents increased 34% during the past five years to $2,881, more than 2½ times the national average, according to apartment market-research firmRealFacts LLC. Silicon Valley’s median household income is on the rise at $90,000, 75% above the national figure, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
For months now, Mr. Smith has feared he might lose his current home, which is stationed on a street near a quiet Palo Alto park. An ordinance passed by Palo Alto last year would punish people cited for living in a vehicle with as much as a $1,000 fine or six months in jail.
“You’re at risk of losing everything,” Mr. Smith said recently. “It’s a weird feeling that until you’ve lived this way, you don’t realize what it’s like.”
For the moment, the city has delayed enforcing the ban while the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals considers a challenge to a similar law in Los Angeles. A decision is expected in the next few months and could affect similar laws in cities including nearby San Jose and Santa Clara. At least 70 cities across the nation have laws targeting people who live in their vehicles.
Officials say these bans aim to prevent nuisances that can be created by those living in cars, and most are enforced only on a complaint basis.
In Palo Alto, police received dozens of complaints from residents near a community center where car dwellers were using the restrooms.
“The neighbors in the community, I think, wanted to be reasonable, but they didn’t feel safe having their kids go to the center,” said Claudia Keith, a spokeswoman for the city.
There are 15 emergency shelter beds and about 150 homeless people in Palo Alto. A nonprofit center provides assistance and referrals. The city also has pledged $250,000 to address homeless issues.
“While, yes, Palo Alto is a city with a lot of wealth, there is still a population with a lot of needs, and I think generally the community is grappling with how do we help the unhoused,” said Ms. Keith.
James Brooks, director of city solutions at the National League of Cities, said that many cities are grappling with the issue and “trying to balance the needs of the homeless and the needs of the community.”