Solving the unhoused crisis

Investigating the factors and solutions to aid the homeless community


Krish Dev

Current construction to build new housing in Cupertino is underway.

Lauren Chuu and Krish Dev

According to The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, California has 30% of the country’s homeless population. With a three year increase of over 22,500 homeless individuals in California, stemming from the economic crisis of the pandemic, homelessness continues to worsen. However, numerous programs and organizations are being implemented to gradually address this issue. 

For instance, Cupertino has been one of the cities enacting local and county-wide solutions to alleviate and manage the homelessness problem. Cupertino Emergency manager Thomas Chin shares that Cupertino has kept track of the homeless population trends by performing a biannual point-in-time (PIT) count of the homeless community. Most recently, in 2022, they counted 102 unhoused individuals. He also notes that communities “collect information on individuals and families sleeping in emergency shelters and transitional housing, as well as people sleeping on the streets, in cars, in abandoned properties or in other places not meant for human habitation.” 

Cupertino Mayor Hung Wei believes the homeless issue has become more visible to the city and its residents during the pandemic and a time of rising housing prices. 

“I do believe this is an equity issue,” Wei said. “People tend to say you have to make your living according to what you have. [It’s] much easier making money with money, [but] for people who don’t have [that], to start over, it’s just really, really hard.”

Economics teacher Pete Pelkey agrees with this sentiment, believing “[it’s] harder to sustain [oneself], especially in this area where everything’s so expensive.” Having been homeless himself at one point, he recalls balancing paramedic school and finding a place to live in South Central Los Angeles. He addressed multiple problems he faced, including lack of access to bathrooms, showers and finding someplace warm. In the Bay Area, he has noticed a larger presence of homelessness.

“[They] tend to gravitate where they’ll be safe at night and where they can find a place that is dry,” Pelkey said. “The hills and reservoirs have places where a homeless person could set up a tent [where] nobody’s [going to] find them for days.”

Wei has also noticed more homeless tents along the freeway, which is why she hopes for more collective collaboration with the other city mayors to prevent this issue from worsening. Currently, the Cities Association of Santa Clara County, a group of representatives from 15 cities, meets every month to prioritize support for the unhoused community, especially those who are unable to afford housing near their workplace.

“The important thing is [to] find them housing because they have jobs. They just need to live close to work,” Wei said. “They can’t drive two or three hours to come to work so they live in their cars, or they are renters who are on the verge of being evicted. [We need to help] them not become unhoused or homeless.”

Nevertheless, Wei is proud of the local programs that have been established to aid this issue. For instance, the West Valley Community Services is just one of the many nonprofits that provides social services such as helping people move into housing with some financial assistance. In addition, local churches such as St. Jude’s Episcopal Church in Cupertino has partnered with The Rotating Safe Car Park (RSCP) Program and opened up parking lots for unhoused people who live in their car to have access to basic amenities like food and showers, and some restaurants have given out food. Wei adds that there have also been “creative finance programs ” presented by homeowners at the National League of Cities Association that have brought communities closer together.

“‘Could you help someone who doesn’t make a lot of money?’ To me, a lot of homeowners are willing to do that,” Wei said. “[They] have creative financing programs to help people be able to rent a place and [reduce homelessness] and they’re very proud of it. It’s that [aspect of] ‘I’m helping my community [and the] people who work here [and] live in my community.’” 

Pelkey agrees that there is a wide variety of social services and aid available to the homeless community. However, he acknowledges that it depends on the individual whether or not they choose to utilize the resources.

“I have a friend as a social worker back in New York and she says there’s so many aid programs for homeless people but [program members] sit down with [homeless people and] try to get them to come in; ‘we make an appointment and they don’t show up,’” Pelkey said. “And so there’s a disconnect between the aid there is and people actually receiving that aid.”

Alongside local programs, Santa Clara County has developed a 2020-2025 Community Plan to End Homelessness, a three part plan with end goals such as reducing the number of people becoming homeless by 30%, increasing temporary housing and establishing a stronger supportive housing system. Even though the homeless issue is still in the process of being addressed, Chin is confident in Cupertino’s efforts to curb the homelessness crisis.

“The City has always provided a high level of service to the unhoused community in partnership with non-profits and the County of Santa Clara,” Chin said. “There are always opportunities to improve service delivery and coordination and the City will continue to adapt to the situation.”

Aside from community proposed solutions, Pelkey addresses the often unseen but determined resilience within the homeless community, describing his memory of an MVHS alum who was homeless with her mother during her time in high school but kept that part of herself hidden.

“She was always clean,” Pelkey said. “You’ve never known how big the struggle was, but they were struggling through her senior year. The girl has gotten through college now. I’m very impressed with [that] kind of fortitude, that ‘I’m going to hold it together and do all this and still be homeless’. And because she graduated from Monta Vista, nobody would ever know.”