SAN JOSE -- While there was promising news Thursday that the number of homeless in the United States has declined for the third consecutive year, a federal survey highlighted a troubling reality in Santa Clara County.
The region's homeless problem remains among the worst in the nation.
In a detailed report released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, San Jose/Santa Clara County posted the nation's fifth-highest homeless population. It also ranked among the places with the most chronically homeless and homeless children and young adults.
The South Bay also has the country's highest percentage of unsheltered veterans, with 80.6 percent of the 718 homeless vets counted in a January census living in places not meant for human habitation.
"The report shows that we continue to be one of the communities struggling with a large, vulnerable homeless population," said Ray Bramson, the city of San Jose's homelessness response team manager. "Everyone recognizes that this is a significant challenge, and we need to keep devoting resources to solve the problem."
The national survey of 3,000 cities and counties discovered more than 610,000 people who were homeless -- a drop of nearly 4 percent from the previous year.
Of that figure, 7,631 were counted in Santa Clara County. Those figures initially were released in July by local officials. But the HUD report puts them into a national perspective.
The local homeless numbers leave San Jose/Santa Clara County behind only New York City, Los Angeles, Seattle and San Diego. The region also has the third-highest percentage of unsheltered homeless (74 percent) and fourth-largest number of chronically homeless (2,518).
Meanwhile, California has the largest homeless population in the country with 136,826, an increase of 4.5 percent over last year. Los Angeles saw the largest increase among major cities. Its current figure of 53,798 homeless includes 11,445 -- or 27 percent -- more than a year ago.
"California continues to lag behind in general," said Ky Le, Santa Clara County's director of homeless systems. "We have to look at how to improve funding and coordination on what clearly appears to be a statewide problem."
Federal officials lauded the effort made in reducing the overall national number. They pointed specifically to the 8 percent decrease in homeless vets (57,849), the 7 percent drop in chronically homeless (92,593) and another 7 percent reduction in homeless families (222,197).
"The progress has been remarkable considering the economic downturn our country faced and the slow recovery," said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan.
But Silicon Valley presents unique problems with its high rents and low vacancies. Bramson noted that while the city and county have devoted more resources toward affordable housing measures, it's hard to find living space.
"We're getting more financial help, more vouchers, more subsidies, but we're still facing this horrible rental market," Bramson said. "The barriers are much higher here, so it's no surprise that San Jose's homeless numbers are so high."
In the earlier Santa Clara County report, 85 percent of homeless indicated their last permanent residency was in the county. That shows, Bramson said, that most are not transients.
"These are our neighbors who experienced some kind of personal crisis, and it led to people being outside," he added.
Follow Mark Emmons at Twitter.com/markedwinemmons.
The cities with the largest homeless populations are:
New York City: 64,060
Los Angeles city and county: 53,798
Seattle/King County: 9,106
San Diego city and county: 8,879
San Jose/Santa Clara County: 7,631
Source: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development