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Silicon Valley Homeless Population Spikes; RV Dwellers More Than Double

SAN JOSE (CBS SF) -- After more than a decade of steady numbers, Santa Clara County's homeless population hit an all-time high, with a sharp rise over the past two years, according to a new report.

The final comprehensive report for the 2019 Homeless Census and Survey shows the total number of homeless, both sheltered and unsheltered, hit 9,706 in 2019, a 31% increase over the 2017 count of 7,394.

Some of the notable findings:

-Sunnyvale had the largest jump, with 253 in 2017, increasing to 624 in 2019
-81 percent resided in Santa Clara County prior to homelessness
-36 percent reported their first episode of homelessness
-30 percent reported a loss of job as cause of homelessness, the top response
-66 percent could not afford the rent for permanent housing

Perhaps the most noticeable finding is the sharp increase in vehicle dwellers. In 2017, 8 percent of respondents reported living in a car, RV, camper, or trailer. In 2019, 18 percent now live in vehicles.

"It is a concern that people living in vehicles is trending up," said Mountain View Mayor Lisa Matichak.

The Mountain View City Council has been debating oversize vehicle limits for months, in an effort to address the large influx of RVs and camper vans into the city. The most recent count in 2018 found more people living in more than 400 cars or RVs parked across the city. Staffers are researching possible parking restrictions near Rengstorff Park, the city's densest cluster of RVs lined up for blocks adjacent to the park.

Matichak says outreach to the vehicle dwellers has been difficult.

"When caseworkers stop by, they might answer the door, so to speak. Not everyone is open to engaging," said Matichak.

Matichak pointed to the launching of sanctioned parking spots, as well as the city's planned construction of 10,000 housing units as evidence Mountain View is doing its part to help in the homeless crisis.

"We need all the other surrounding cities to do the same thing," said Matichak.

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