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Tens Of Thousands Of Youth Forced To Couch Surf In Silicon Valley

Author: Kiet Do

SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) – Startling new numbers show just how many homeless young people are “couch surfing” their way through Santa Clara County.

Forget buying a house or even renting an apartment. For many young people, about all they can afford is a spot on a friend’s couch.

It’s more proof that the Silicon Valley housing market is out of control.

On the streets, in the waterways, in vehicles and now, on couches.

“It sounds fun, but it’s not. You are technically homeless,” said former couch surfer Crescencia.

Crescencia knows all about it. At 15 years old, her family life fell apart, and so she slept on a friend’s couch for several months.

She says couch surfers are at the mercy of someone’s else’s kindness and patience.

We asked what it takes for someone to end up on the street?

“It could be a day or two. A couple hours, it just depends,” Crescencia said. “If you go to your friend’s house and they say ‘You know what, tonight you just can’t stay here anymore.’ They are homeless.”

The Bill Wilson Center, a homeless shelter for teens in downtown San Jose, has completed a first-of-its-kind count of so-called couch surfers in Santa Clara County.

And the numbers are staggering.

Seventeen percent of high school students surveyed — that’s 13,000 students — are living on a couch.

It’s even worse at all of the county’s six community colleges, where 44 percent of students are homeless. That’s more than 17,000 students.

Sparky Harlan, the center’s CEO said, “The youth count is so hidden. When you try to find these young people, they don’t look like your chronic homeless on the street.”

Harlan has set a goal of making contact with a thousand couch surfers by November 1.

The Bill Wilson Center can take them on, provide shelter, clothing, education, and job counseling.

The goal is to keep these homeless kids from becoming homeless adults.

Harlan said, “So we’re trying to catch these young people in high school before they fall off that couch into homelessness on the street.”

One of the solutions is building more affordable housing.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez says the couch surfing count might just be the push they needed.

She says a big announcement could be coming soon from a local campus.

Chavez said, “They’re all very interested in looking at what they can do to both build more housing and make housing available for students on their campuses.”

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