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Santa Clara County takes 100-day challenge to house 100 homeless youth

Santa Clara County and some of its homeless housing partners are hoping to tackle youth homelessness in the upcoming months by taking part in the 100-Day Challenge.

The “A Way Home Challenge,” coined by the Rapid Results Institute in Stamford, Conn., tasks local organizations with housing as many homeless youths as possible in 100 days.

Supervisor Susan Ellenberg, a sponsor for the project, said in an interview:

“This is just one more link in the chain of this huge amount of work that we have to do.” 

Ellenberg said she is partnering with San Jose’s Bill Wilson Center, the county’s Office of Supportive Housing, Community Solutions, West Valley-Mission Community College District, San Jose State University and Foothill College to house homeless college students throughout the 100 days.

Ellenberg said:

“We want to get kids off the streets and out of their cars as quickly as possible.” 

According to the county’s most recent homeless census, taken earlier this year, there are about 1,876 unaccompanied youths and young adults on the streets of the county, almost all of them — 95 percent — surviving unsheltered.

Nik Wojcik/SFBay Santa Clara County, Calif. accepted the “A Way Home” 100-day challenge as of October 31, 2019 with the goal of housing 100 homeless or unsheltered youth in 100 days.

By early next year, the county and its partners are planning to house 100 homeless youths, following the challenge’s Oct. 31 start date.

Ellenberg added:

“When we hit 100 kids, we’re not done.” 

Ellenberg said she plans to offer up space in her own home for a young person in need.

Ellenberg said:

“What I can contribute as an individual supervisor is really to highlight the temporary house sharing opportunity.”

“The colleges are working on reaching out to the students who need the housing. I want to amplify the importance of community members to offer that housing.”

Ellenberg also dedicated $90,000 earlier this year in the county’s budget as a one-time grant to fund the homeless youth housing project.

Part of the challenge includes a $900/month temporary housing program run by the Bill Wilson Center, which is enlisting locals with spare bedrooms to house and mentor at-risk LGBTQ youth, according to the center’s CEO, Sparky Harlan.

Hosts will be vetted and paired with a young person in need for up to three months.

Harlan said:

“We’re trying to make sure that somebody doesn’t end up on the street in long-term homelessness, because what we find is a lot of students end up living in their cars or in the library here in between different rental options, or dorms or from place to place.” 

“So we’re trying to help with the bridge housing with targeted financial assistance.”

Harlan said the Bill Wilson Center, which shelters up to 500 homeless individuals and families on any given day, has access to an additional $150,000 in mostly state funding and private donations, to house youth for the project.

Harlan said:

“Some of this is trying to get students to realize there’s help out there, and so we might be able to able to put them into other programs we have besides that $150,000 that we’re just using in this next 100 days to do that targeted financial assistance.”

“It’s obviously not paying somebody’s rent for two years, it’s really trying to find out what we can do to keep somebody housed or to make sure they don’t go deeper into an unhoused situation.”

Harlan said the challenge will help the county come up with a new system to address student homelessness.

Harlan added:

“One of the purposes of trying to house 100 young people in 100 days is we’re going to set up a system throughout Santa Clara County on how to address homeless students.” 

“We want to keep them enrolled in school, so we want to make sure they can pay for their books or pay for their fees, and we can do some of that also.”

Harlan wants to ensure that homeless college students “can stay in school and ultimately graduate with the four-year-degree, not just the two-year.”

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