NOT EVERYONE IS benefiting from Silicon Valley’s latest tech boom.
As rents soar, almost 55 per cent of Silicon Valley workers do not make the $90,000 necessary to support a family of four in the region. The area has the fifth-largest homeless population in the country, and in the past three years the problem has gotten much worse, according to the latest Silicon Valley Index.
After reporting on the homelessness crisis last fall, we returned this month to find more people living on the street around San Francisco and a growing and deteriorating homeless camp in San José.
Business Insider sent photographer Robert Johnson to investigate.
Silicon Valley is booming, with 92,000 new jobs and 46,000 new businesses created in 2012.
The housing market is booming too, with lots of luxury construction like the NEMA residential high-rise in San Francisco’s once-crime-filled Tenderloin.
With shuttle service to suburban corporate campuses, tech stars can happily live in San Francisco and other desirable areas.
But while soaring real estate prices are a good thing for some people, many are finding it harder and harder to live in the area.
That’s why protests have sprung up around Google buses …
… and a growing number of people have ended up on the streets.
Silicon Valley’s displaced and homeless population is the darkest side of the tech boom.
Although San Francisco spends $165 million a year fighting the problem, the city’s homeless population has hovered at more than 6,000 people for almost a decade. Homelessness numbers across the region have increased sharply.
By some estimates, nearly 1,000 children and young adults also survive on the streets without a home.
It’s not just a shortage of homes making the problem worse.
San Francisco landlords are now using a loophole in tenants’ rights law, called the Ellis Act, to evict longtime residents. Using this loophole, San Francisco landlords served 1,977 eviction notices from March 2013 to 28 February 2014.
When a 60-unit affordable housing project opened in 2014 on this former vacant lot, more than 2,800 people applied. The demand is overwhelming.
Elsewhere, life is getting harder for the homeless. Palo Alto recently prohibited people from sleeping in their cars, and the local Cubberley Community Center controversially cut its public shower access.
With few other options, some homeless head farther south into Silicon Valley and arrive at “The Jungle” in San José.
The Jungle is 65 acres of San José city filled with people who feel they have no place else to go. Rodney, pictured below, is on parole and has to make his appointments and keep his ankle monitor charged from his camp.
The shantytown is growing, doubling in size since last summer to a total of 300 people.
Conditions are deteriorating, too.
“I saw drug use, violence, and severe mental illness when I toured the camp, and heard horrifying reports of sexual assaults carried out by men with machetes,” says Johnson.
There are more homeless veterans in Silicon Valley than anywhere in the country, and some of them live at this camp.
County officials send medical teams down here each week to treat patients in the field and in this mobile clinic, but the demand never ends.
Local nonprofits do what they can to ease life in the camp, provide shelter, and help homeless residents build a bridge back to their former lives.
At the same time, there is pressure to close the camp. The State filed a pollution complaint against the city 20 March, claiming San José is contaminating local waterways by allowing residents of The Jungle to remain.
There is talk of a new program to put homeless people up in local motels, but this is just a stop-gap measure. What Silicon Valley needs are more homes that everybody can afford.
For now, America’s most technologically advanced region must accept that a shocking number of locals live without basic human needs.
All images: Robert Johnson
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