Destination: Home's ending homelessness in Silicon Valley

The following is the transcript of a speech given by Emmett Carson on March 26, 2018, at an event hosted by Destination: Home, a supporting organization of SVCF, at the Tech Museum of Innovation.

Emmett Carson
Emmett Carson
CEO and President,
Silicon Valley Community Foundation

Thank you for that warm introduction. Jen [Loving] has given me a tight time limit of 10 minutes, so let me get started. I want to begin by saying how wonderful it is to have Jen and the Destination: Home staff as part of Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s extended family as our newest supporting organization. I also want to congratulate Jen and everyone who has been involved with Destination: Home since its founding 10 years ago. I am proud to have played a small role as a member of the Santa Clara County Blue Ribbon Commission on Homelessness that eventually led to the creation of Destination: Home.

The Blue Ribbon Commission was established with the belief that we could solve homelessness in Santa Clara County if we could make it a public policy priority and gather the necessary resources. For 10 years, Destination: Home has stayed true to that vision by keeping our community focused on those who have no stable home. While Destination: Home has made important strides in achieving its mission, unfortunately, our region’s growing housing crisis has made their work both more important and more difficult.
Silicon Valley’s growing housing crisis has made finding housing our region’s version of the Hunger Games. Everyone has a story. Paradoxically, as our community’s overall housing crisis has become more severe, this has meant less public attention on those who need it most – the homeless.

When you think about it for a moment, this really isn’t all that surprising. Think about when you are in a group photo. If you like your own photo, you seldom think about how anyone else looks and you never ask yourself who is missing from the photo. If you don’t like your photo, you ask a lot of questions about why was that particular photo chosen and why can’t another be selected or taken.

The challenge Destination: Home faced 10 years ago before housing became a crisis for everyone was to get us all to understand who was missing from the photo. Today, no one likes their own picture in the photo and so we devote all of our energy, resources and political clout to advocate almost exclusively for policy solutions that benefit us. We are all too busy following the advice that every airline gives us that we should put our own oxygen mask on first before trying to assist others. It’s not that we don’t care about the well-being of others. We do. It’s just that we are having so much trouble putting on our own mask that we don’t think about those who aren’t even on the plane.

With median housing prices across the region well over $1 million and escalating apartment rents, we all have a story or know of someone with a story about how hard it is find a place to live. When something affects us or those we know, that becomes our focus of attention. We become primarily concerned about how proposed solutions will fix the housing problem for us or for those we know. Today, our attention is on:

  • Housing for ourselves and family members.
  • Housing for civil servants such as teachers, police officers and firefighters.
  • Housing for our employees whether they are in technology, the nonprofit sector or some other business.
  • Housing for the kids of wealthy parents who would like to see their grandkids grow up in this community.

If those who have voice and resources find themselves unable to navigate the Valley’s housing crisis, who speaks for those who have no voice and no resources? Who champions the cause of people who are forgotten and who struggle daily with the various challenges that life has thrown at them? Who remembers those who are out of sight and who society prefers to keep out of mind? This is the vital role that Destination: Home plays in our community by keeping the lives of the homeless squarely in public view.

Santa Clara County, the epicenter of the world’s innovation hub, has the third-highest rate of chronic homelessness in the US. There are over 7,400 people who are homeless in Santa Clara County and over 2,000 of them are chronically homeless meaning that they are living on the streets for an extended period of time.

There is quite simply, not enough housing dedicated to those who need housing the most. We also know that when we provide people who are homeless with stable housing solutions we significantly lower the costs of hospital and emergency room visits, incarceration in jail and other public services which totals $520 million per year in Santa Clara County.

Unfortunately, there is no price that can be put on the lives of the 476 homeless people that have died between 2011-2016. In all of Santa Clara County, there are only 348 apartments that are specifically designated for formerly homeless individuals and their families – that’s right only 348 units for a homeless population of 7,400 people. This is unacceptable and it is unconscionable.

The work of Destination: Home will be even more important over the next decade.

  • Destination: home is giving voice to the voiceless.
  • Destination: Home is giving hope to those who have been forgotten.
  • Destination: Home is reminding us all that a community is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable residents and that we are failing by that yardstick.

Destination: Home can’t do this work alone. They need our help. We can make solving homelessness a priority and we can gather the necessary financial resources to make it a reality. It only requires that we all commit to making solving homeless a forethought rather than an afterthought as we advance housing solutions that leave none of us, especially the most vulnerable, out of the picture.

Thank you.