Last year, Santa Clara County helped move more than 2,500 homeless households into permanent housing — a record high. The bad news? About twice as many fell into homelessness in 2023, many for the first time.

In a new report this week highlighting the findings, local officials touted their progress in housing more people and funding thousands of new affordable homes. But they were quick to concede that with first-time homelessness on the rise, the county is nowhere close to solving a crisis it attributed to rising housing costs and persistent income inequality.

“Our Countywide efforts to create new housing and end experiences of homelessness are clearly working, but we need more investments in these scalable solutions to keep pace with the increase in people being pushed into homelessness,” Consuelo Hernandez, director of the county’s Office of Supportive Housing, said in a statement.

According to the county’s annual Community Plan to End Homelessness report, service providers helped 2,509 homeless households find housing last year, the most since officials began keeping track in 2019. But at the same time, at least 4,297 households became homeless. That means, on average, for every family housed, another 1.7 lost their home.

Another worrying statistic: The nearly 4,300 households that became homeless represent a 24% spike from 2022. Until last year, the annual total had been on a downward trend since 2019, when at least 4,751 became homeless.

In addition to housing costs and income inequality, the county attributed the homelessness surge to the expiration of pandemic-era eviction moratoriums and rental-assistance programs that helped pay for housing. Experts and officials say that while mental health and addiction are significant drivers of homelessness, the region’s severe affordable housing shortage is the main reason the crisis is so much worse here than in most of the rest of the country.“The fundamental underlying causes of homelessness have not shifted,” said Kathryn Kaminski, deputy director of the county’s supportive housing office.

The new report only accounts for households that sought help from one of the county’s roughly 80 service providers, meaning the latest numbers aren’t a complete snapshot of local homelessness.

But according to the county’s most recent homeless population estimate, taken in January 2023, just over 9,900 people were living outdoors, in vehicles or other places not meant for habitation, or in homeless shelters. That was a 1% dip from the year before.

The struggle to put a dent in homelessness, despite a flood of public spending in recent years, has only stoked public frustration over encampments and jarring scenes of human suffering on display on city streets and parks countywide.

Still, officials say their efforts are making a difference.

They pointed to 56 recently opened or planned affordable and supportive housing projects that have received funding from the county, South Bay cities and philanthropic donations made by local companies, including Cisco and Apple. Once all those developments are completed, that could mean around 5,800 new homes.

Additionally, officials credited ongoing county rental aid and financial assistance programs with helping prevent some 2,500 households from becoming homeless.

“You have to get people off the streets permanently, but you also have to stop the amount of people becoming homeless,” said Jennifer Loving, chief executive of Destination: Home, a Silicon Valley homeless solutions nonprofit that works closely with Santa Clara County.

For Desiré Campusano, 33, that aid was crucial in keeping her housed after an emergency forced her to temporarily care for two young family members — an infant and a toddler — in a one-bedroom apartment in Milpitas.

In 2021 and 2022, Campusano received thousands of dollars in county assistance to help cover her more than $1,500 monthly rent while earning around $25 an hour as a social worker. Even with the extra money, she found herself in a similar position as many of those she was tasked with helping each day.

“Little do they know, we’re one paycheck away from not having a place to live,” Campusano said.

Today, Campusano shares a home with an elderly relative in Hollister. She still worries about affording rent but said her situation could be even more challenging had the county not stepped in.

“I was just very thankful,” she said.

Even so, direct financial assistance alone is not going to fix homelessness.

To move some of California’s most vulnerable people off the street, officials are asking voters to approve a $6.4 billion statewide bond measure on the March 5 ballot that could help create around 11,000 mental health treatment beds and homeless housing units. Some disability rights advocates, however, argue the measure represents a dangerous regression to the inhumane forced treatment of the past.

Loving with Destination: Home said that while state and local programs are helping, the real solution is more investment by the federal government. Currently, the federal budget only includes about 3% for housing programs such as Section 8 vouchers, Loving said.

“That would be the single biggest thing this country could do,” she said.