September 23, 2023

SANTA CRUZ — Popping out of a punishing winter and the tip of the coronavirus pandemic’s state of emergency, Santa Cruz County’s homeless inhabitants has remained extremely seen and but considerably dwindled, in accordance with outcomes of a current examine.

Jessica and Betsy Scheiner scan the realm for individuals experiencing homelessness through the 2023 point-in-time homeless depend. (Aric Sleeper — Santa Cruz Sentinel file) 

The area’s annual homeless point-in-time depend, performed by volunteers on a single day in late February, recorded a one-year lower of greater than 21%, bringing the census to the county’s lowest recorded inhabitants of 1,804 unhoused people. The most recent survey numbers had been revealed Thursday, greater than a month after native governments set in movement their funds plans for the approaching fiscal years.

With the help of ongoing state {dollars} and a twisting labyrinth of specialised grants, Santa Cruz County’s efforts on the homeless entrance have expanded in areas of broader root-cause points reminiscent of behavioral well being and drug dependancy challenges, along with tackling the native ongoing inexpensive housing provide scarcity.

Limiting inexpensive housing efforts was the truth that Santa Cruz County continued to sit down among the many highest ranked in research of rental housing affordability, together with prime slots within the 2022 report by the Nationwide Low Earnings Housing Coalition and the Nationwide Low Earnings Housing Coalition’s 2023 Out of Attain report. The county’s Rehousing Wave effort, working in collaboration with the Housing Authority of Santa Cruz County, positioned 295 previously homeless households — representing greater than 425 individuals — into properties between October 2021 and early 2023.

Housing Matters Executive Director Phil Kramer gestures Wednesday toward the soon-to-be occupied seven-unit "Casa Azul" supportive housing apartment building at 801 River St. in Santa Cruz. (Jessica A. York -- Santa Cruz Sentinel)
Housing Issues Govt Director Phil Kramer gestures in June towards the soon-to-be occupied seven-unit “Casa Azul” supportive housing condominium constructing at 801 River St. in Santa Cruz. (Jessica A. York — Santa Cruz Sentinel file) 

Two of the three everlasting supportive housing tasks receiving funding from the state’s Challenge Homekey grants have opened their doorways to tenants, together with an preliminary providing from the deliberate 20-unit Veterans Village in Ben Lomond and the seven-unit Casa Azul in Santa Cruz. The third, a 36-unit Park Haven Plaza modular house  undertaking in Aptos, stays below development.

Each jurisdictions are working via multiyear strategic plans to handle native homelessness.

Shelters vs. the streets

This 12 months’s obvious enchancment within the native homeless inhabitants — the survey was “performed below difficult winter circumstances,” in accordance with a launch from the collective Santa Cruz County Housing for Well being Partnership — got here a 12 months after the county recorded a 6% uptick in homelessness. That survey occurred whereas Santa Cruz County as an entire was within the midst of its largest effort to shelter homeless people, at its peak greater than doubling its non permanent mattress depend to over 1,000 with the assistance of state and federal coronavirus pandemic aid funds. As these funds ran out and resort shelters shuttered, a long-standing metropolis out of doors encampment in Santa Cruz’s San Lorenzo Park grew to become a focus of the realm’s persevering with want.

An unhoused person takes shelter in an alcove outside the downtown Santa Cruz library on Church Street during a recent storm. According to the February "2022 County of Santa Cruz Homeless Count and Survey Comprehensive Report," there were 2,299 homeless people living in the County of Santa Cruz, including 1,439 in the city of Santa Cruz. Of the 2,299, 1,774 were listed as unsheltered. (Shmuel Thaler -- Santa Cruz Sentinel)
An unhoused individual takes shelter in an alcove exterior the downtown Santa Cruz library on Church Road throughout a March storm. (Shmuel Thaler — Santa Cruz Sentinel file) 

In keeping with this 12 months’s homeless census, 79% of individuals experiencing homelessness in February had been unsheltered.

Then, in September, metropolis officers accomplished a multimonth effort to filter San Lorenzo Park’s Benchlands encampment’s occupants, providing various shelter choices as every camp phase was fenced off and bulldozed. The camp’s estimated inhabitants reached, by some counts, greater than 300 people at its peak and had at the very least 225 individuals as clearout efforts started in earnest, metropolis outreach employees mentioned. Occupants had been supplied help in looking for various shelter choices, together with choices on the city-funded Overlook shelter effort on the Nationwide Guard Armory in DeLaveaga Park with 135 indoor and out of doors areas, which complemented a extra established self-governed camp for 27 individuals in a metropolis lot at 1220 River St.

A resident of the Benchlands camp, at right, goes about his business as a police officer and a Santa Cruz Police Department community service officer monitor Thursday's activity at the northern end of the encampment. (Shmuel Thaler -- Santa Cruz Sentinel)
A resident of the Benchlands camp, at proper, goes about his enterprise as a police officer and a Santa Cruz Police Division group service officer monitor exercise on the northern finish of the encampment in September. (Shmuel Thaler — Santa Cruz Sentinel file) 

Many camp occupants didn’t go to or stay for lengthy within the metropolis shelters, leading to a focus of tent encampments within the metropolis’s Pogonip park and close by, alongside the Freeway 9 hall main out of city. The encampment continued earlier than and after in depth winter storm harm to the realm, till an identical metropolis encampment clearing undertaking  — begun at Pogonip in Might — concluded in July. Town estimated that there have been 65-75 occupied tents within the park on the cleanup’s begin and that 35 individuals had been linked to shelter providers by its conclusion.

Along with placing Santa Cruz, a serious winter storm in March and subsequent breach of the Pajaro River levee close to Watsonville heightened the concentrate on individuals dwelling in tents alongside the riverbed. Even earlier than dozens of households had been put out of their properties on account of flood damages, Watsonville itself was the one metropolis within the county that recorded a rise of individuals experiencing homelessness this 12 months. In keeping with the point-in-time depend, the recorded homeless inhabitants went up by 15% from the 12 months prior, to 421 people.

In June, the state introduced its award of a $8 million encampment decision grant to joint recipients Santa Cruz and Monterey counties plus town of Watsonville and the Pajaro Regional Flood Administration Company. The grant will fund placement of a brand new micro-home village shelter undertaking to serve these dwelling with out shelter within the Pajaro River mattress.