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Photos: This is what it’s like to be homeless in Silicon Valley

Despite being one of the richest areas in America, the number of homeless in Silicon Valley has risen by 7% over the past two years.

Business Insider spent a week in Silicon Valley exploring its homeless camps including
Business Insider spent a week in Silicon Valley exploring its homeless camps including "The Jungle," the largest homeless camp in the U.S.

THIS STORY IS a part of Business Insider’s “Homeless In Silicon Valley” series, and is reported by Robert Johnson and edited by Chris C. Anderson. Jill Klausen and graphic designer Mike Nudelman contributed to this series. Click here to read more.

Silicon Valley in California 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 130,000 people.

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

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.

Lack of housing and adequately paying jobs

What is causing the trend-bucking homelessness problem in the area? In addition to the rising cost of housing and lack of adequately paying jobs, we found that mental illness and substance abuse are problems in the Valley’s homeless community like elsewhere in the country. Forty per cent of the country’s homeless suffer from substance abuse or mental illness, and though the National Alliance on Mental Illness calls California’s mentally ill housing the “gold standard”, the state cut its mental health budget by 21 per cent from 2009 to 2012.

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Many homeless people sleep on the M22 bus, during its endless overnight loop between San Jose and Palo Alto. (Image Credit: VTA Watch)

The budget cuts, lack of allocated housing, recession-era tax breaks in the county, a lack of adequately paying jobs, a growing wealth gap, and rising home prices for sales and rentals is “a perfect storm of homelessness,” San Jose’s Housing 1000’s Jennifer Loving told Business Insider

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 $4,800 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.

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 it clear that 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 Google co-founder Larry Page’s home.

Lack of police presence

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 also spent a day on San Francisco Bay with Larry Ellison’s Team Oracle to see what a pair of $10 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 organizations 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…

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(Image Credit: Robert Johnson/Business Insider)

… but Silicon Valley’s per capita homeless population rivals any area in the nation.

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(Image Credit: Robert Johnson/Business Insider)

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

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(Image Credit: Robert Johnson/Business Insider)

However, 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 with another woman.

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(Image Credit: Robert Johnson/Business Insider)

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.

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(Image Credit: The State of Homelessness in America)

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.

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(Image Credit: Robert Johnson/Business Insider)

This is just an extract from the full Business Insider photo story. To view the full collection of stunning images, click here >

Back in Ireland: New infographic shows extent of homeless problem in Dublin area >

Read: Getting out of homelessness early is key says study >

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Business Insider
Business Insider is a business site with strong financial, media and tech focus.

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