Thanksgiving is upon us again and Feeding America, the nation's largest domestic hunger-relief organization, estimates that one in seven people in our nation utilizes its network of food banks.
This number applies even in one of the richest places in the world — Silicon Valley — where the tech explosion has fueled skyrocketing rent and mortgage costs that have cast many longtime residents into near or actual homelessness.
"My family has been here since 1860 or so; they were pioneers who came in a covered wagon to farm the rich land and now, all these years later, there's concrete and tar, parking lots for high-tech companies and freeways covering what used to be called the Valley of the Heart's Delight," said Dee Dee Kiesow, a development officer with Cityteam Ministries, a San Jose-based nonprofit that works to help people struggling with poverty, homelessness and addiction. "Now, with the high cost of housing, just renting a room in a house takes nearly all your money and people are making hard choices about whether to eat or pay the rent. After living in this area 150 years, even my family is facing having to move out."
Kiesow told me that, counter to the stereotypes about who goes hungry in America, in the heart of Silicon Valley, homelessness and hunger are not exclusively linked to unemployment:
"Many of the people who use our food pantry have jobs. We have lots of two-parent working families but they have to choose when and what to eat. The biggest crisis facing all of us is being able to afford to have a roof over our heads. The big tech boom brought a glut of people with very high salaries — to the point where there is little or no housing for our low-income men, women and families. Food and everything else have become so expensive, and if you have a minimum-wage job and make, say, $22,000 a year, I don't even know that you could find one room to rent for that kind of money here."
(Apartmentguide.com says that a studio apartment in San Jose averages $2,537 per month.)