HOMELESS IN SILICON VALLEY: Hardship In America's Innovation Heartland

This story is a part of Business Insider’s “
Homeless In Silicon Valley” series reported by Robert Johnson and edited by Chris C. Anderson. Jill Klausen and graphic designer Mike Nudelman contributed to this series.

Silicon Valley Mansion In The Hills Santa Clara County Homelessness 1 3Robert Johnson for Business InsiderThree homeless people rest near Coyote Creek, San Jose.

Silicon Valley has a serious homeless problem, despite the fact that the Valley is home to some of the richest zip codes in the nation.

Over the past eight years the U.S. watched its homeless population decline by more than 130,00 people.

That’s a nearly 17 per cent drop that flies in the face of Silicon valley’s 8 per cent increase in its homeless population over the last two years.

Click here to see the photos »

Not including San Francisco — which has a serious homeless problem of its own — the Silicon Valley stretches through the Santa Clara Valley down from Redwood City, through Palo Alto, Mountain View and San Jose.

What is causing the trend-bucking homelessness problem in the area? It could at least be partly attributed to a lack of adequately paying jobs combined with a growing wealth gap and rising home prices for sales and rentals.

Barry Swenson Builders told Business Insider that Silicon Valley’s residents can expect a 1,000-square-foot “tear down” home to sell for more than a million dollars. Then there’s the rental market. A two-bedroom rental at the low end of the $1,800 to $US4,800 market, can be tough to find. The apartments that do come to market often receive hundreds of applicants.

Barry Swenson Builders also said it had more than 600 applications for a 29-unit complex they were building in Mountain View, just south of Palo Alto. Rental prices went from an all-time 2009 low to the highest-priced market in the U.S. in 2013.

Click here to see our full report on Homelessness in Silicon Valley »

It is no wonder that in the midst of this collection of wealth and crazy real estate there is a serious problem with homelessness. More than 7,600 people are sleeping homeless on any given night in the Valley. In Palo Alto — ground zero for Silicon Valley Wealth — the city council has made clear the 157 homeless have worn out their welcome.

How homelessness is dealt with varies from city to city, but is no less of an issue in each. Palo Alto has a robust police force and the city just passed legislation outlawing people from sleeping in their cars. The city also just imposed restrictions keeping homeless people from sleeping at the one place in town that has public showers. That center was just blocks from Larry Page’s home.

In San Jose, hundreds of police officers have quit for higher-paying jobs. A lack of police presence combined with open land along creeks and trails has made San Jose a go-to destination for many of Silicon Valley’s homeless.

Business Insider spent a week in mid-July visiting the Valley, talking to government workers, volunteers, non-profits, and the homeless residents themselves. We even spent a day on San Francisco Bay with Larry Ellison’s Team Oracle to see what a pair of $US10 million sailboats can really do. The contrast was stark.

These photos and this series take a close look at the homelessness problem in the Silicon Valley, including profiles of former coders who lived on the streets, Vietnam Vets, working mothers who can’t afford rent, and the people and organisations who are trying to affect change.

We looked more at the homeless issues in the South Bay compared to San Francisco, as the homeless problem in San Francisco proper is already a well-documented problem.

The Santa Clara Valley in Northern California is home to some of the largest tech companies in the world ...

But Silicon Valley's per capita homeless population rivals any area in the nation.

Amid the stunning Spanish architecture and blue skies, 37% of all venture capital in the U.S. gets invested among thousands of startups in Silicon Valley.

Source: Joint Venture

Established companies like Google pay salaries that allow employees to live comfortably in a region with skyrocketing housing costs.

People live well here, as this Mount Hamilton home overlooking the Valley shows.

They own very nice things, including expensive cars. Luxury car dealerships like this McLaren dealer in Mt. View are not uncommon.

They send their kids to outstanding schools like Stanford University.

But not everyone in Silicon Valley benefits from the wealth of innovation and high-paying jobs here. Patricia lives in a homeless camp in San Jose.

While U.S. homelessness dropped nearly 17% over the past eight years, Silicon Valley's homeless population grew by 8% and no one we talked to expected that increase to slow anytime soon.

To have a home you have to be able to afford a home. The surge in tech hiring has caused home prices to rise out of most people's reach. Funds to Federal housing have also decreased dramatically in the region.

Then there's the quality of jobs available. Brian Greenberg, VP of Programs & Services at InnVision Shelter Network told us, 'We're really good at getting people lousy jobs, but lousy at getting people good jobs.'

In mid-July, Business Insider spent a week in Silicon Valley exploring its homeless camps including 'The Jungle,' the largest homeless camp in the U.S.

We met the people who live there, like Antonia who lives on Coyote Creek in San Jose. She was a caretaker who was kicked out by the son of the man she was caring for two years ago.

We did see some success stories from people like Sue, who now lives in this home after years on the streets.

Many don't make it out. The person who lives here is a transsexual who had supposedly been burned over 90% of her body. But homelessness isn't restricted to those accustomed to a hard life on the streets.

There are mums looking for a better life. Cecilia and Carol both have part time jobs but are still living in a shelter.

The shelter they call home is part of the InnVision Shelter Network.

Carol and Cecilia live here with their children.

Not everyone wants to give up their freedom to live in a shelter and follow a set of rules. Mama Red who left a shelter to live on the streets years ago after losing her floral business.

Countless people fall through the cracks, like Giggles who has been largely homeless since she was 18 years old.

The man that lives here in Coyote Creek was out on parole and had a drug test he said he was likely to fail, sending him back to prison.

If Mama Red wanted to stay at a shelter, she'd have a chance to stay somewhere like the Boccardo Reception Center. But unfortunately for men, to get a bed you need some luck as there's a nightly lottery.

Ed, a vet, doesn't need to win a lottery to get a bed. The Veterans Administration offers much better options to former military members.

Here at Boccardo, Ed and other vets have their own gated complex and small studio apartments to share.

They have a patio set donated by Loews.

And a weight bench outside their rooms.

Regardless of where they sleep, everyone at Boccardo gets two meals a day -- in the morning and at night. Boccardo serves about 250,000 meals a year.

Meals are a big concern outside the shelters and in the camps. Food can be scarce.

Many times people in the camps worry when the next meal will come.

When there's no firewood for a camp fire, homeless residents cook their food however they can. Relying on butane fuel can be especially helpful.

But cooking outside with an open flame and building camp fires can have dire consequences. Fires that consume acres of land are common near homeless camp sites.

The risk of fire isn't the only concern for residents who have homes bordering camps, as the negative potential health effects of exposed sewage backing onto their land are a concern...

... As well as the countless piles of refuse spread all over the camps.

Santa Clara Valley Homeless Healthcare Program members come out to the camps a couple times each week.

The medical team, made up of both doctors and nurses, schedule appointments out of this bus. The mission of the program is to be the 'safety net for the safety net.' They care for people who cannot or will not seek care in a conventional health care setting.

They head into woods bordering creeks where the homeless concentrate...

... and up stairs made by homeless residents ...

... and into the 'homes' of the homeless.

The homeless people trust the medical workers. But the team still knows they're fighting an uphill battle. Here they're visiting Dan, a resident of The Jungle.

The medical teams do what they can to keep people here from getting sick, but no amount of self-medication can solve all health concerns when you're homeless.

They are fighting conditions where an antifreeze container serves as the community toilet water supply.

Substance abuse is a common problem among the homeless here.

Mental health concerns are also a huge issue in the camps. The man who camps here digs holes all day and night.

All of this is going on beside a thriving community garden ...

... in neighborhoods where a modest two-bedroom home can sell for more than a million dollars.

Source: Trulia

Tech corporations and the homeless aren't ignorant of each other. Some tech giants even try to do something about it.

Coupons.com painted this mural at the InnVision shelter. They also donate a lot of time and professional experience as well as money to help combat the homeless problem in Silicon Valley.

When we visited, a tech company sent a team of volunteers to InnVision's grounds on a beautification project.

Volunteer time and donations from tech companies allows InnVision to offer important necessities to those in need.

Shelter networks like InnVision also provide personal hygiene items that could make all the difference to someone living on the streets without an income and only a food-stamp card.

Even with networks like InnVision providing help to Silicon Valley's homeless, it still isn't enough to solve the problem.

Not when parolees from California's overcrowded prisons -- like this man Dee -- are left to make appointments without transportation vouchers and told to live in homeless camps.

It costs nearly $US14,000 a year here just to get around on some sort of transportation.

For those that can't get help, refuse help or simply aren't in a position to take back their lives, they still find a way to make the best of their surroundings by crafting homemade 'comforts' like a shower.

Mended tarps and old sheets and blankets offer at least the illusion of privacy.

The homeless struggle to create as much normality as they can in their lives, scavenging and repairing things like old barbecue grills, radios, and bicycles, and even using old boards and fencing materials to give themselves a sense of home.

The average apartment goes for about $US2,000 in Silicon Valley. That's a 10% increase from the year before while earnings dropped and residents now pay nearly half of their income on rent. It costs $US2,502 to rent the average two-bedroom apartment in Silicon Valley, and no amount of scavenging can build a complete home.

Even with the attempts at creating normalcy, desperation is the prevalent mood.

Outreach workers can't change the fact that 60% of low-wage jobs were lost in the recession.

Source: National Employment Law Project (2012). The Low-Wage Recovery and Growing Inequality.

Read how the outreach workers help the homeless »

Public services can't change the fact that so many homeless people sleep on the M22 bus, during its endless overnight loop between San Jose and Palo Alto, that it's known as Hotel 22.

No amount of planning ...

... or education can totally eradicate homelessness.

There just isn't one thing that will end homelessness in Silicon Valley.

But maybe it's time more companies out here approached local homelessness like any practical problem they've solved in the past.

They could always pay more attention and devote more resources here in their own backyard in addition to creating technological innovations designed for the rest of the world.

This is what it's like to be homeless in Silicon Valley.

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