By Zach Friend, County Supervisor 2nd District
Homelessness, including those living in insecure or inadequate shelter options, is a significant problem in our community. While much of the visible issue is concentrated in the cities of Santa Cruz and Watsonville it is an issue that impacts the entire county. According to the most recent Santa Cruz County Homeless Census (often referred to as the Point in Time Report), our county has a homeless population of approximately 2,250 individuals – an increase of about 15 percent over 2015. Within that population eighty percent are unsheltered, 20 percent are veterans, and 10 percent are families with children.
There are many reasons for homelessness, including domestic violence, substance use, mental health challenges, exceptionally high housing costs – (Annual income needed to afford a 2-bedroom apartment in our county is ~$70,000), physical disability, and much more thus making the solution to this issue complex. But even with this complexity there are some coordinated efforts that the cities, county and service providers are working on to make an impact.
At a recent Board of Supervisors meeting we considered a report that outlined the demographics and public costs of homelessness, impacts and specific recommendations to address known gaps in our current services. We adopted a set of policies and intend to consider additional changes in January to expand upon our services. Ultimately, the focus is on permanent supportive housing, ensuring that we can create or find housing for those in need. But the first steps are coordination with the cities and service providers to ensure that we are maximizing resources and also providing resources countywide.
Historically, there has been an underinvestment in resources in the south county and this year the county and cities have invested funds to ensure that there are shelter beds and additional program services in Watsonville.
Specifically, the Board of Supervisors adopted three recommendations and will be coming back in January with additional approaches. The three adopted recommendations were:
Work in partnership with the City of Santa Cruz and the City of Watsonville to establish drop-in day centers in each of the respective jurisdictions at which homeless people can rest in a sheltered location, access essential services including bathrooms, showers, laundry, and have access to services that will assist them in finding housing.
Work in partnership with the City of Santa Cruz and the City of Watsonville to establish new year-round emergency shelters (currently there are just shelters during the winter).
Work in partnership with the Homeless Action Partnership to secure, on an urgency basis, new housing units for the homeless while continuing to cultivate the development of permanent housing. The Homeless Action Partnership is the collaboration in Santa Cruz County that acts as the HUD mandated Continuum of Care.
Additionally, County staff is researching and considering a model in Yuba County where they created temporary bridge housing through concentrated tiny homes. These homes can be located on public or private property and provide temporary housing as individuals transition to permanent supportive housing.
This is just an overview of some of the things the county and cities are working on. Clearly, it’s an issue that needs our entire community’s participation to be effective. We do believe that these are important first steps in addressing the need and working toward permanent supportive housing. As always, I’d like to hear your thoughts.
Please call me at 454-2200 with your questions and comments.