Santa Clara County

‘Vulnerable Population': Santa Clara County Shelters Turn Away Thousands Each Year

Thousands of domestic violence victims and their children are turned away from Santa Clara County shelters each year, prompting county officials to push for more affordable housing to protect this vulnerable population.

Over 700 domestic violence victims and their children were housed by five shelters or transitional housing spaces in Santa Clara County last year, and 18,000 bed nights were provided. But nearly 2,200 more were turned away due to a lack of space, according to county data.

Shelter administrators say that once victims reach the maximum amount of days they're allowed to reside at one shelter, many bounce to another.

“So they are going from shelter to shelter because they do not have another place to go,” said Colsaria Henderson, director of programs at Nextdoor Solutions to Domestic Violence.

More than 21,000 calls were made to Santa Clara County domestic violence hotlines last year. Experts say calls came from people of every socioeconomic level, race and neighborhood.

“Abuse thrives in secrecy, silence and isolation,” said Ruth Patrick, founder of WomenSV.

WomenSV is an organization that supports women of substantial financial means in Silicon Valley, who are also victims of domestic violence. Patrick says despite a significant amount of wealth, many women who live in affluent neighborhoods and suffer from domestic violence do not have access to the financial resources needed to leave.

“There is also tremendous risk involved in outing a partner who is a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, a CEO of his own company. He has tremendous resources to effect financial, emotional and professional harm on his partner as a result of that,” Patrick said.

Experts say a lack of affordable housing in the county is clogging the shelters.

“Having access to safe and affordable housing can make the difference between predominately women with children deciding to either leave an abusive relationship or they may end up facing homelessness, if they can’t find shelter space,” said Cynthia Hunter, management analyst at the Santa Clara County Office of Women’s Policy.

The Intimate Partner Violence Blue Ribbon Blue Ribbon Task Force, co-chaired by supervisors Cindy Chavez and Ken Yeager, is prioritizing domestic violence as a significant county issue. The task force is working on a report that will be released later this year, suggesting victims of domestic violence be a priority group for affordable housing.

The Santa Clara County Housing Bond Measure A, which passed in November, allows the county to borrow up to $950 million to acquire or improve affordable housing property. The bond lists survivors of domestic violence as a “vulnerable population” in need of housing.

“We believe it’s one of the top crimes in our county,” Hunter said. “So if we give women more choices in terms of housing options and affordable housing than they have more options to decide for their personal safety and the safety of their children.”

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