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Continued: Homeless in the heart of booming Silicon Valley, a woman seeks to escape the Jungle

  • Article by: MARTHA MENDOZA , Associated Press
  • Last update: July 5, 2014 - 11:20 AM

Now, as executive director of Destination: Home, she is spearheading a new, concerted effort in San Jose to house people, a far cheaper alternative to the rotating circuit from the emergency room to local jail. Studies vary, but the cost of each person living on the street is estimated about $60,000, while the cost of housing someone is about $16,000 a year.

"I know this sounds incredibly obvious," she said, "but we're housing them first."

Once someone has an apartment, a social worker with a relatively low case load is assigned the job of keeping them housed.

In a 24-month pilot, they've housed 630 people, 76 percent of whom were still in their home a year after moving in. One man slept in a tent, inside his apartment, for three weeks. Another, an amputee who had been sleeping in a creek bed, stopped making his near-daily trips to the emergency room.

Dozens of cities have seen similar results from Housing First initiatives, including New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta. Now that it's proving effective in San Jose, Loving is pitching a Silicon Valley disruptive moonshot: $500 million would be enough to house the 2,500 chronically homeless people in the county, she says.

"This is not giving out a blanket and a bowl of soup," said Loving. "This is solving one of the worst crises we have in the U.S. today."

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In April, Salazar's social worker found a studio apartment for her.

No dogs — no dice.

Then there was a motel room. Salazar said no again.

"I'd just get back into trouble if I stayed right there on the strip where everyone is hustling," she says.

There was a possibility in Gilroy, a farming town an hour south. Too far, Salazar decided.

She got an extension on her housing voucher, and a bus pass she used to visit the homeless shelter for a shower. She got an identification card for the first time in 13 years but it was stolen two days later. She saw a doctor, got a medical card, made an appointment with the DMV to get her very first driver's license. She cleaned up her tent and added on with more tarps and construction cast-offs, building a wooden fence with a swinging gate.

"I've got a living room here, kitchen here, master bedroom," she says, pushing tarps aside.

But what about moving out?

"I can't really see that happening anymore," she says.

But the Jungle is feeling grim. A man was found dead in his tent. The police came down, and the coroner.

"Can you believe it? There's his body, right there," says Salazar, her eyes wide.

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