Housing solutions change as homeless people move to Santa Cruz – Santa Cruz Sentinel

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SANTA CRUZ – Since two major camp sweeps took place in May and June, residents and visitors to Santa Cruz have noticed that the homeless population has found new spaces to set up camp. Although efforts such as the local partnership effort called Rehousing Wave have been launched in the area, some people stay camping on sidewalks, in parks, or even on the beach.

“I can’t say it’s all tied directly to the 1/9 Hwy or Hell’s Trail, or whether it’s summer or (some other) reason, but we’ve seen a constant stream of people trying to camp on the beach, ”police said. Chief Andy Mills said Wednesday. “But last night six people were trying to camp on the beach. I don’t want the community to think there are a large number (there).

A disturbing trend

It doesn’t take long before homeless people have to relocate to a new location again due to existing ordinances prohibiting them from camping in certain areas of the city and county. Stewart Newell, 28, said this week that he has been living part-time in the San Lorenzo Park Benchlands sanctioned camp for the past month. He said most of the people staying there are left alone, but he was not sure how long this peace would last.

“It’s just going to break up, give it another month or so, people will see it… it’s an eyesore, they’re not going to like it, [people] start complaining, ”Newell said. “And everyone’s going to lose everything they own and it’s going to start over as usual.” It’s like kicking someone while they’re down. This only prolongs the problem.

In the city of Santa Cruz, individuals are warned that they must leave the area immediately and are only cited if they do not want to do so, Mills told the Sentinel. Mills said he was unaware of the cost of a ticket to the campsite.

There are four types of people who have sought camping in places where ordinances prohibit, such as the main beach in Santa Cruz: those recently displaced from other areas of the city, those who do not know what the law is, the food vendors setting up for the next repeat offenders who know the rules but keep coming back, the chef said. Mills said areas where people had previously been evicted, such as along the San Lorenzo River behind the Santa Cruz Memorial Cemetery, are flooded again.

“These places seem to be popular right now. The fire department has been set up in Pogonip and Sycamore Grove and there aren’t as many (homeless) people as we’ve seen in the past, ”Mills said.

Santa Cruz police officers know how to pull out brochures and other resources to inform the homeless people they come into contact with about their options, their leader said. But the cause of homelessness is complex, and the solution must be equally multidimensional, Mills said.

“For example, (a) guy who was really picky near the beach, cited (around) 39 times and arrested eight times… we sent a homeless advocate to the beach to make contact. He wouldn’t listen to us, but maybe he will listen to someone else, ”Mills said. “We try to pull as many levers as possible. “

All hands in

Local officials agree with Mills, which is why there are many efforts in place or being developed to try and serve the underserved – the homeless in Santa Cruz County. The people are ready for meaningful solutions.

“Something needs to be done on a more permanent level… and something that isn’t just forcing people to pick up their things every day and let them sit down once it’s 10pm,” said Newell.

When Project Roomkey – a statewide COVID-19 initiative to move people in need with shelter in hallways and hotels – starts to slow in Santa Cruz County next month, it’s likely that even more people will become homeless. Robert Ratner, director of the county’s recently founded Housing for Health division, said he was determined to reduce the damage.

“Currently, we have around 280 households and just over 300 people in these public health emergency shelters (two vet rooms and six hotels),” he said. “We are preparing for requests from Project Homekey to use a future round of state funding to acquire one or more properties for long-term housing resources. “

The Homekey project is the next step in the state’s response to homelessness inflamed by the pandemic.

Use the power for good

Supervisors whose districts have been most affected by homelessness, such as 5th District Supervisor Bruce McPherson, seek to coordinate with Ratner and his division as well as elected officials and their staff at the district level. city ​​and county. McPherson’s office said he and 3rd District Supervisor Ryan Coonerty sit on the “2 × 2 committee,” or a committee encompassing the two and the mayor and vice-mayor of Santa Cruz. It’s an opportunity, explained a representative from McPherson’s office, to bring ideas about future state funding to fruition.

“We both have a role to play in managing our elements of the homeless response, and this work is more synchronized now than in the past,” said McPherson. “Personally, I continue to support our strategic framework in the county to address shelters, full services and permanent supportive housing. “

Even the state has an interest in gambling with the local Caltrans plots.

“Caltrans was in weekly meeting with the City and County of Santa Cruz for months to find solutions in collaboration with the county’s continuum of care,” said Kevin Drabinski, public information manager for Caltrans District 5, after the second camp clean-up. “We understand that teams from the County Health Services Agency’s Behavioral Health and Clinics division were conducting weekly outreach activities at this site, sometimes going out several times a week, and have continued to do so before closing this site. “

A team working for Caltrans cleans up the homeless camp on May 10 along Highway 1 at River Street in Santa Cruz. (Shmuel Thaler – Sentinel of Santa Cruz)

McPherson’s office added that it was not aware of any increase in shelter capacity after the enforcement actions off the downtown core. This has especially complicated the housing situations for people who survived the CZU lightning complex fire last year.

“Even before the fire, it was difficult to get and keep housing in Santa Cruz County. We know that the survivors of the fires are struggling in many ways, ”said the supervisor. “This is why Supervisor Coonerty and I formed the Response, Recovery and Resilience Office, and supported both the Dedicated Recovery License Center and the Long Term Recovery Group. “

There simply aren’t enough beds for every homeless person in Santa Cruz County right now, McPherson’s office later noted. The focus is therefore on providing services even when the hosting service is not available.

“(I haven’t visited a camp) since Ross Camp, due to COVID, but we know people need a lot of services – mental health (and) addiction among others,” McPherson said. “This is why the county’s awareness of the encampments has been essential in directing people to sources.”

Overcome the obstacles

Local experts say these are two main challenges when it comes to responding to homelessness – setting awareness and tracking people.

Ratner said there are three types of outreach, which he believes the county and community entities have mixed together and made less powerful: responding to mental health crises, health and safety issues in the settlements and longer-term case management of homeless people.

“We’re trying to get to the point in the planning conversations to figure out how much money (a group) has for outreach and who is doing (what)… so that we can help them do it right,” Ratner said. .

The California Office of Housing and Community Development requires that each county, across its homeless care continuum, keep track of each individual through coordinated entry assessments. In Santa Cruz, it’s called the Smart Path to Housing and Health. When Smart Path staff make contact with a homeless person, they add them to a list in the public system to connect them with limited resources. Because there are only five people in the recently funded positions who can only handle a limited number of cases at a time, there isn’t much time for a follow-up to see if the homeless person has been selected.

“The tough trade-off is you make this really light-hearted response where you don’t follow up and don’t know what happened to them or you can say, ‘Let’s be realistic. Let’s design this system (differently) and see if we get better results, ”Ratner said.

Dozens of community partners are now participating in the county’s Homeless Management Information System, encouraged by Ratner and his team. Getting people to lean over is key. For example, division staff feel supported when a county supervisor sends information about what they consider a suitable plot of land in an unincorporated county that could be used for housing and promises to support Housing for Health staff if there are neighborhood issues.

“We’re starting a housing group to talk about (about) opportunities, (involving) people from different cities and different nonprofits, but we’re starting right now with different county departments,” Ratner said. “It’s about bringing the experience of homelessness to the community at large, making people aware that we (are) all human beings here.

An organized and fenced tent camp replaced a former unauthorized homeless encampment lining the sidewalks of Coral Street in 2020 (Shmuel Thaler – Santa Cruz Sentinel file)

It will take ordinary citizens to at least limit, if not eliminate, homelessness, Ratner said. Each individual can help by partnering with the county and renting a unit from a homeless person, donating to nonprofits such as Wings Homeless Advocacy that set up move-in kits or Homeless Persons. Health Project (HPHP) which runs a street medicine program during the pandemic, supporting construction of affordable housing and recognizing the humanity of just one of the more than 2,100 estimated homeless people in Santa Cruz County, added the director.

“If you have the will and the comfort (you could) say, ‘How are you? Can I get you something? ‘ Said Ratner. “One kind gesture can go a long way (on the way) to permanent housing… we might not see the results, but I’ve heard so many stories that I’ve come to believe it.

Sentinel reporter Jessica York contributed to this report.


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