Welcome to the Jungle
by: Lily Lin
The San Francisco Bay Area, and more specifically Silicon Valley, is known for its innovative technology companies and for being home to half of California’s billionaires, according to Forbes. However, Silicon Valley is also known for having one the largest homeless populations in the country. In the midst of the area’s prosperity, there are hundreds of homeless encampments, one of the largest being “The Jungle,” which Business Insider says is made up of “65 acres bordering Coyote Creek in San Jose [that] can be home to up to 175 people at a time.” This encampment, like many others, is surrounded by the facilities of some of the world’s largest companies such as Adobe, Apple, Google, Intel, and Yahoo.
One of the main causes of homelessness in the Bay Area is the extremely high cost of living. According to The Mercury News, “The median price in December for a single-family home in Santa Clara County was $1.2 million ... a comparable home in Sacramento is $314,000, according to Zillow.” Santa Clara County, part of the San Francisco Bay Area, is four times more expensive than Sacramento, a city that is just 88 miles away. Due to these booming real estate prices, many blue collar workers living in the Bay Area are forced to live in RVs parked in the streets. Many residents find it more logical to live in a camper parked outside their workplace than to shell out money that they don’t have on rent and transportation for a long commute. One such resident is Saldana, who works two jobs cooking and serving food at hotels in Palo Alto. Saldana told The Mercury News that she lives in an RV with her three sons, who are all in their 20s; two of them work in a bakery and contribute $700 for rent monthly. In areas like this, the disparity between the large tech giants and those who work in the community is extremely apparent.
Why are homes in the Bay Area so much more expensive compared to other areas in California? In areas like Santa Clara and Silicon Valley, zoning restrictions limit the amount of new buildings. In these places, along with others impacted by the zoning restrictions, it’s a miracle to find any residential buildings built after 2000. Not only is the amount of buildings limited, but also the number of stories one is allowed to have. Due to the Bay Area’s close proximity to the San Andreas fault line, several restrictions are in place to limit the height of residential and public buildings. Most of the buildings in the Bay Area are four stories or shorter. However, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, local legislators recently passed the SB-827 bill, which will speed up urban development for new housing. Hopefully, housing will become more affordable, allowing some of the homeless population to find permanent accommodations.
Other people who cannot afford to live in the Bay Area have even left it in search of better work opportunities and cheaper living accommodations. The Mercury News states that “[Silicon Valley] gained 44,732 immigrants but lost 44,102 residents to other parts of California and the country” between July 2015 and July 2017. Among the residents that Silicon Valley lost, they saw the largest decline in residents between the ages of 18 to 24. As it’s mostly young adults leaving the San Francisco area, the age demographic will gradually become unbalanced, causing the older generations to outweigh the younger generations. With the younger generation leaving the Bay Area and the older generation reaching retirement age, there will be no one left to work for the large tech companies that the city is so reliant upon.
City officials and non-profit organizations have made several steps toward limiting the poverty in the Bay Area by donating money to the cause and funding services that provide food and shelter. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the “city spent $275 million on homelessness and supportive housing in the fiscal year that ends Friday, up from $241 million the year before.” In addition, police officers and service workers are routinely cleaning out “The Jungle” when it gets too polluted and cluttered. Public Works service members “[picked] up more than 679 tons of trash from homeless tent camps since June 1, 2016, and [collected] more than 100,000 used syringes from the camps in that time span.” While the financial policies have been effective in funding temporary housing and providing food services, the routine cleanups have just been afterthought resolutions, not the preventative measures needed to help end homelessness. Rather than just cleaning out these encampments when they get too messy, the city should be focusing more time and effort on funding programs that focus on rehabilitation to help with drug use in the area. These measures have done a lot to help with the dropping poverty line, but continued efforts and new programs are needed to end homelessness in the San Francisco Bay Area.