Homelessness Prevention


  • Santa Clara County - San Jose, California

Focus Area

  • Housing

“Though 74% of homeless families in Santa Clara County are sheltered, 26% live on the streets. Or in cars. Or under bridges. Without the means to acquire stable and safe housing, families experiencing homelessness face the high likelihood of passing poverty onto their children.”

The Issue

Whether living in urban, suburban, or rural America, homelessness is a visible problem. In 2019, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness reported that 567,715 Americans were experiencing homelessness. And although homelessness is a national problem, some states have it worse than others. 

Take California. On a single day in January of 2019, 151,278 people there were experiencing homelessness. That accounts for 26.7% of the total homeless population in the U.S. In Santa Clara County alone, 7,394 people were without a home in 2017. 

This problem is only growing. In 2019, there were 9,706 people in Santa Clara County who lacked a home—a 31% increase from 2017. While homelessness is difficult everywhere, Santa Clara County’s affluence, popularity, and booming industry make its conditions particularly difficult for those experiencing it. 

Santa Clara County is uniquely positioned in California’s Bay Area. It’s Silicon Valley. Cities like San Jose and Palo Alto are within its borders, and its proximity to San Francisco makes it a favorite for commuters and tech industry giants. As the home of Google, Facebook, Apple, Oracle, and Hewlett-Packard, Santa Clara County is one of the most affluent counties in the country. And though affluence comes with a wealth of social benefits, it also creates grave challenges for those in poverty, especially those struggling to keep their homes. 

Today, the average rent in Santa Clara County is among the highest in the nation, and it continues to rise. The median rental price for a two-bedroom home in the county is $3,500 per month. For families that lack a steady job and consistent income, making monthly rental payments is a challenge. 

And the rental market is tight. With the tech industry attracting an ever-growing number of employees, the vacancy rate in 2017 was 0.3% for homes in Santa Clara and 3.1% for apartments. Both historic lows, which means eviction can be unforgiving. If a family fails to make their rental payment, the high demand for housing makes it easier and more profitable for landlords to issue eviction notices, leaving families to pick up their lives on the streets.

In fact, Santa Clara County’s 2019 Census and Survey of the Homeless found that 42% of surveyed individuals said receiving rental assistance would have prevented them from becoming homeless. Similarly, 36% of surveyed individuals were experiencing homelessness for the first time, mostly due to unemployment. 

But rent and unemployment aren’t the only challenges faced by those on the brink. Families in Santa Clara County also struggle with the exorbitant cost of living, even if they’re juggling multiple jobs. Add the costs of childcare and schooling to high rent and other basic necessities, and unexpected hiccups quickly become serious financial crises. 

Of those counted in the Santa Clara Homelessness Census, 921 people were in families with children. Though 74% of homeless families in Santa Clara County are sheltered, 26% live on the streets. Or in cars. Or under bridges. Without the means to acquire stable and safe housing, families experiencing homelessness face the high likelihood of passing poverty onto their children.

This is expensive. In Santa Clara County alone, 70% of surveyed individuals included in the Census and Survey of the Homeless receive public benefits. And because the conditions of homelessness are associated with greater risk for health problems, individuals experiencing homelessness tend to have longer, more frequent stays in hospitals and emergency rooms. They’re also more likely to become involved with the criminal justice system and transition repeatedly through jails, homeless shelters, and hospitals, which further increases public costs. 

To better serve our neighbors and to break the cycle of poverty, we need to know how to stop homelessness in the first place. If we can prevent struggling families from losing their homes, we’ll give them the chance they need to achieve and maintain independent, dignified lives. 

The Intervention

The Santa Clara County Homelessness Prevention program provides one-time financial assistance for families on the brink of homelessness. Families who receive financial assistance also have access to legal services, case management, financial services, and other services like landlord dispute resolution. Because resources are limited, financial assistance is only available to individuals with a high PR-VI-SPDAT score—an index used to measure vulnerability.

Research Question

Does providing one-time financial assistance for families on the brink of losing their homes keep them from falling into homelessness?

Intended Outcomes

  • Families who participate in the Santa Clara County Homelessness Prevention program and receive one-time financial assistance will be less likely to fall into homelessness than non-participants. This will be measured by comparing shelter entry and address changes across the families assigned to receive assistance with this same information for families who are not.
  • Families who receive assistance will also exhibit greater housing stability than those who don’t receive services.

Research Study Design

The Santa Clara County Homelessness Prevention study is a randomized controlled trial. To be eligible to receive the program’s financial assistance and case management services, families must have a PR-VI-SPDAT vulnerability score above 8. Families scoring above 13 are automatically eligible to receive financial assistance. 

But because Santa Clara County does not have the resources to serve everyone in need of assistance, families with PR-VI-SPDAT vulnerability scores between 8 and 13 are entered into a random drawing to receive funding. Those selected by the random drawing receive financial assistance. They become members of the treatment group. Those who are not selected by the lottery do not receive services and become members of the control group. 

By comparing results across the treatment and control groups, LEO researchers will be able to discern which families benefit the most from the program. And by knowing who benefits the most from emergency assistance, policymakers will have a better understanding of how best to prevent homelessness. 

Learn With Us