Skyrocketing housing costs and the resulting exodus of low-income residents has Community Services Agency of Mountain View, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills readjusting its strategy: Rather than helping families stay in their homes, the nonprofit safety net wants to help stabilize their housing temporarily so that they can better prepare to leave the area.
“I’m not one that’s prone to hyperbole, but I will use the word ‘crisis’ right now when dealing with the housing situation,” said Tom Myers, CSA executive director, in a meeting last week with Town Crier staff.
Founded in 1957, the organization recently completed a new five-year strategic plan with goals of “client stabilization” and “improved client outcomes.”
Plan priorities include re-evaluating and expanding “client eligibility” for programs; “reinventing services” to meet changing needs; enhancing CSA marketing efforts; and further investing in personnel.
CSA identified four challenges its clients currently face: a decrease in affordable housing and an increase in homelessness; the lack of accessible transportation; food “insecurity”; and health and social needs among the aging population on fixed incomes.
Decrease in clients
CSA recorded a high of 6,737 clients in the 2011-2012 fiscal year, but that figure dropped by nearly 500 to 6,249 in 2014-2015. That drop was even more pronounced regarding emergency assistance, which fell from 4,948 cases in 2014 to 4,104 the following year.
That drop, Myers said, is attributed to residents forced out of the area by the high cost of living. CSA statistics also show average Mountain View and Los Altos rents increasing by 17 percent over the past two years.
Myers said CSA provides for the less fortunate through 14 different programs – with more to come – that center on two objectives: “Providing food on the table and a roof over their head. And the ‘roof over their head’ part is becoming increasingly difficult.”
The number of homeless clients has risen dramatically, from 245 in fiscal year 2013-2014 to 486 in 2014-2015. Many are living in recreational vehicles or cars parked alongside streets.
“The biggest concentration (in Mountain View) is the Rengstorff Park area,” Myers said. “RVs get all the attention because they’re big and bulky, but the vast majority are living in cars.”
That includes families with children attending schools in either the Mountain View Whisman District or the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District.
Myers said CSA has funding for scenarios by which the nonprofit can pay two or three months’ rent for a family experiencing an exorbitant rent increase. That help, he said, would allow families to keep their children in school until the end of the school year.
“(The city of) Mountain View itself has granted us some funds to address housing subsidies,” said Tom Smith, president of the CSA Board of Directors. “We would love to see Los Altos do more.”
Keeping families local would be ideal, Myers noted, but is not realistic.
“The actual solution is to build more affordable housing here, or have a group like CSA to stabilize people here so they can move out of the area,” he said. “It’s not something I relish, (but) if it means living in a car versus moving to Stockton, I’d rather have them move to Stockton.”
Myers, who attended Awalt High School prior to its conversion to Mountain View High in the early 1980s, remembered growing up in a socioeconomically diverse community.
“There was a day when teachers could afford to buy a home in Los Altos,” Myers said. “We’re moving away from that in a big way.”
The new plan focuses more on sustained help for lower-income residents who stay and remain in need.
“We need more time with each client,” Smith said, “particularly how we interact with seniors and low-income residents.”
“It’s no longer good enough to say we handed out food to 250 people today,” Myers said.
The agency also is collaborating more than ever, Myers said, pooling resources with West Valley and Sunnyvale community services agencies and partnering with Hope’s Corner, which operates out of Trinity United Methodist Church in Mountain View. Hope’s Corner provides homeless residents meals and a shower every Saturday morning. Smith said approximately 300 homeless residents per week avail themselves of the service.
“They’re actually taking pews out of the sanctuary so they can have the food program there,” he said.
Another collaboration with El Camino Hospital involves a Challenge Diabetes program that promotes healthful nutrition among low-income seniors.
“Even in Los Altos, there are people in need and struggling, particularly seniors, either people who (have) lived here a long time, have outlived their savings or are living on a fixed income,” Myers said.
Smith said the new strategic plan, which officially takes effect July 1, won’t be implemented immediately but rolled out over time.
CSA, with its $3 million annual budget and additional $1 million in in-kind contributions, employs 24 and has approximately 750 volunteers. It is an annual recipient of the Town Crier Holiday Fund.
For more information, visit csacares.org.