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The Homeless Working Poor

The Salinas Valley in California is an agricultural powerhouse, but homelessness and hunger abound. Finding affordable housing is becoming increasingly difficult, even for people with jobs.
December 16, 2019, 1pm PST | Camille Fink
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Don Hankins

Brian Goldstone explores the California housing crisis through the story of a family, parents with three children, living out of their van in Salinas in Monterey County. As the region’s technology workers have moved into this part of the San Francisco Bay Area, housing costs have skyrocketed. "Over the past eight years, there has been a 37 percent loss of low-rent units in the city, while rents have shot up by almost 60 percent since 2014 — roughly four times the national average," he says.

The area’s working poor, including farmworkers employed in the area’s vast agricultural industry, are struggling with stagnant wages, immigration issues, and food insecurity. But housing, by far, is the greatest challenge they face, notes Goldstone. "Families are doubling and tripling up in overcrowded, substandard conditions; they’re resorting to garages and toolsheds, cars and abandoned properties. In Monterey County, approximately 8,000 schoolchildren were homeless last year, more than San Francisco and San Jose combined."

Homeless advocates say the federal counts of homeless people in the county is too low and, as a result, people do not get the resources they need. The family that Goldstone profiles eventually finds permanent housing after nine months of homelessness and living in the van. They are able to access a network of social services, including a program that helps them with the funds they need to rent a house, but the road to housing stability is a long and uncertain one. 

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Published on Tuesday, November 26, 2019 in The California Sunday Magazine
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