Photos show what it's like for Silicon Valley's 'working homeless,' who live down the street from tech giants
Melia RobinsonDec 6, 2017, 09.33 PM
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In this photo taken Oct. 5, 2017, a man skates past a row of RVs where people live and sleep in the heart of silicon valley in Mountain View, Calif. Apartments across the street start at over $3,000 a month. The booming economy along the West Coast has led to an historic shortage of affordable housing and has upended the stereotypical view of people out on the streets. Reporting by The Associated Press finds that many of them are employed, working as retail clerks, plumbers, janitors _ even teachers. They go to work, sleep where they can and buy gym memberships for a place to shower.Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP
In Silicon Valley - home to tech giants like Google, Facebook, and Apple - tree-lined streets are filling with tents, cots, and dilapidated RVs.
Silicon Valley has the highest median income in the nation. But a worsening wealth gap has caused homelessness to surge. More than 10,000 people were living without shelter across San Jose and Santa Clara Counties on any given night in 2016, though that figure is probably low.
These photos give us a glimpse of life on the streets in Silicon Valley.
The area's tech-industry boom has created a new economic class: the working homeless.
In the same affluent, suburban cities where Google, Apple, Facebook, and Tesla built their headquarters, thousands of people work regular jobs and come home to cars and RVs.
"We still need to eat," said Tes Saldana, who works in the restaurants of two hotels in Palo Alto, California. She lives with her three adult sons in a camper she parks on the street.
An influx of tech workers along with decades of under-building has created a historic housing shortage in the San Francisco Bay Area. The cost of living is sky-high.
In 2016, nearly one-third of people living in California put more than half their total income toward rent and utilities, according to a report by the California Budget & Policy Center.
Working-class wages don't stretch far in a city like San Jose, where the median rent is $3,500 a month. Food service workers make a median wage of $12 an hour there.
Living in a vehicle allows people to save up money that they would lose in rent.
Benito Hernandez, who works as a landscaper and roofer, pays $1,000 a month to rent an RV that he shares with his pregnant wife and children. They live in Mountain View.
The family was kicked out of their apartment two years ago, after the rent increased to nearly $3,000 a month. "After that, I lost everything," Hernandez, 33, told the AP.
Despite her full-time job teaching English classes at San Jose State University, Ellen Tara James-Penney sleeps in a car she parks at a church that shelters homeless people.
She eats her meals at the school's dining hall and the church.
At night, she grades papers and prepares lessons in her car by the light of a headlamp.
During a lesson on John Steinbeck, a students said that she was tired of hearing about the homeless. "I said, 'Watch your mouth. You're looking at one.' Then you could have heard a pin drop," James-Penney told the AP. "It's quite easy to judge when you have a house."
Albert Brown III, a security officer, said his feet have been hurting him but he can't afford to miss a shift. He recently signed a lease that he can barely afford on his $16-an-hour salary.
"It's a sad choice. I have to decide whether to be homeless or penniless, right?" Brown told the AP. He previously lived in his car and is working overtime to pay for its pricey repair.
Tom Myers, executive director of Community Services Agency, a nonprofit based in Mountain View, told the AP that a "crisis of unemployment" is not to blame for the homelessness epidemic in Silicon Valley. "People are working," he said.
But working does not mean living comfortable in the tech capital of the world.