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article imageSilicon Valley's wealth has created a culture of homelessness

By Karen Graham     Dec 29, 2016 in Technology
California's Silicon Valley is the epicenter of the technology revolution in the U.S. The wealth is palpable everywhere you look, yet over 30 percent of Silicon Valley residents are on public assistance and one-third of its schoolchildren are homeless.
While Silicon Valley is just a nickname for the conglomeration of tech giants occupying Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties in northern California, it has spread out and includes quite a number of cities and towns. Palo Alto is one such city.
Last week, Business Insider described Silicon Valley as being a prosperity paradox, with 76,000 millionaires and billionaires living on one end and thousands of others struggling to put food on the table and a roof over their family's head living at the other end. Fully 30 percent of residents in Silicon Valley are on public assistance, yet one end doesn't know that much about the other.
The city of Palo Alto has an asphalt strip of freeway separating the venture capitalists, fancy homes, and shopping malls of the wealthy from East Palo Alto, an area of the city where families are lucky to have a roof over their heads. In this part of the city, over one-third of schoolchildren are homeless, reports Raw Story.
The children, 1,147 of them, are defined as homeless because they are sharing homes with other families because their parents can't afford one of their own. They live in RVs and in shelters. Even teachers, administrative staff and school principles are having problems with finding a place to live.
“You used to say you’re on the wrong side of the tracks. Now you’re on the wrong side of the freeway,” Gloria Hernandez-Goff, the hard-charging superintendent of Ravenswood City school district, which has eight schools and a preschool, told The Guardian.
The tech boom is partly responsible for the situation facing Palo Alto residents today. As the tech economy drew in new businesses and inhabitants, local housing prices soared, forcing many long-time residents out or further away from the lucrative job market. Today, if someone is extremely lucky, they might find a home for $500,000, but not often.
In East Palo Alto, a traditional center for African American and Latino communities, the coming of the tech companies has contributed to the dislocation of many families and added to the tax base, raising property values for families stuck in low-paying jobs.
There are a number of non-profit organizations trying to help the residents in East Palo Alto. Yet they seldom see any of the wealth come their way, even though it would have a big impact in reducing poverty in the city. One study called this situation an "empathy gap." This is all part of the "prosperity paradox, where the wealthy have no inkling that the people of East Palo Alto exist at all.
For those who think that tech giants don't care about how the other half lives, there are changes in the wind. Facebook recently announced it had committed $18.5 million for the construction of affordable housing in the area.
The Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, founded by pediatrician Priscilla Chan and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, her husband, are funding literacy and leadership initiatives in the local Ravenswood District.
But it is the systemic problems, including wage stagnation, inequality, and housing shortages, that will require long-term action. All that most non-profits can do right now is put a band-aid on the most obvious wounds and hope they don't get worse.
More about Silicon Valley, Homelessness, systemic problems, cost of living, prosperity paradox
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