SANTA CRUZ — The results of Santa Cruz County’s first comprehensive homeless census since before the coronavirus pandemic remain up in the air, but, in some ways, counting people who are homeless has become easier than ever.

Since the Sentinel last addressed the issue with its contribution to the regional series “State of Homelessness” in June 2021, one-time federal and state homelessness funding has continued to pour into the coffers. counties and cities in California, even as most pandemic emergency funding has begun to dwindle. Locally, the County and City of Santa Cruz approved the allocation of more than $1 million combined from their 2022-2023 fiscal year budgets to local organizations addressing homelessness through an annual community fundraising process results-based.

The San Lorenzo Park Benchlands homeless encampment in Santa Cruz flooded in December. (Shmuel Thaler – Sentinel of Santa Cruz)

On June 30, Santa Cruz County closed the last of its temporary self-contained emergency shelters, including lodging at six motels, an effort that had been made possible largely with the help of project dollars. State roomkey. As part of the county’s Housing for Health division relocation wave, some 100 motel occupants out of more than 800 in two years were moved to permanent housing from July 1 to December 31, 2021, according to a report from the division. Housing for Health March 22 to the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors. At its peak, the new county-backed shelter bed capacity nearly doubled pre-pandemic numbers to 1,008 beds, a number the county had planned to reduce to 386 beds by this summer without that new resources come online.

Phil Kramer, executive director of Housing Matters, which provides the largest ongoing supply of homeless shelter spaces in Santa Cruz County, said the pandemic has proven “what you can do when you have the resources. dedicated in case of emergency”. He said working to address homelessness goes hand in hand with providing sufficient and affordable housing.

“It’s fair to say that we haven’t been consistent in our response to homelessness or homelessness in general as a crisis,” Kramer said. “Unfortunately, unfortunately, this pervasive situation is a problem in so many communities, I think, goes far beyond Santa Cruz. I think, for most people in Santa Cruz, we’re past the time where we think we’re an anomaly, that we’re different, that it’s only here. This is a crisis and a real pressing issue for communities across the country.

  • Construction is progressing this week on the River Street Victorian acquired...

    Construction is progressing this week on the River Street Victorian acquired by Housing Matters and located directly across Coral Street from the organization’s main campus. (Shmuel Thaler – Sentinel of Santa Cruz)

  • A homeless man walked past the Costco gas station in...

    A homeless man recently walked past the Costco gas station in the Harvey West Park neighborhood. (Shmuel Thaler – Sentinel of Santa Cruz)

  • The benches of San Lorenzo Park continue to be occupied by...

    The San Lorenzo Park Benchlands continues to be occupied by a homeless camp. (Shmuel Thaler – Sentinel of Santa Cruz)

Meanwhile, ongoing efforts by the city of Santa Cruz, along with state highway crews, to shut down and fence off several long-standing unauthorized homeless camp spaces have reduced options for homeless people, even though several new structured city camps have since gone live. . The closures precede the future implementation of an overnight camping ban in the city.

The larger camp, a technically sanctioned space stretching along the banks of the river in San Lorenzo Park, however, remained untouched this month after a planned camp shutdown was pushed back to later this summer. Federal court protection of that same camp ended in June 2021, but city officials have allowed the site to remain a homeless catch-all site providing space for more than 300 tents as it works about alternative shelter options. In December, heavy rain caused flooding in the lowest part of the riverside camp, prompting the city to evacuate dozens of occupants to temporary sites inside a city parking lot and later on the Depot park car park.

As recently as the end of June, dozens of new homeless people were reportedly referred to Benchlands Camp, after the last motel shelter in the county closed.

In the city of Santa Cruz, a new three-year strategy focused on action against homelessness has begun to bear fruit, thanks in large part to the injection of a sum of $14 million set aside by the state to support the city’s efforts. The city is expected to expand a 75-bed outdoor encampment outside the National Guard Armory with an additional 60 beds inside the facility in mid-August, with both shelters operated by the Army of the Hi. Also in August, a city-funded 24-hour secure parking program at the Armory is scheduled to launch for people living in their vehicles. The Armory programs, inside DeLaveaga Park, complement a 30-person outdoor tent shelter program that opened in January on a fenced-in gravel lot at 1220 River Street.

Durability issues

In May, city leaders approved the purchase of land to build a new homeless shelter, adjacent to the county’s largest permanent indoor shelter on Coral Street. For years, city leaders have envisioned a new “navigation center” type shelter, familiar to San Francisco, envisioned to offer low-threshold, high-service temporary housing programs for homeless adults. Meanwhile, this property at 125 Coral St. will continue to house existing tenant Sea Berg Metal Fabricators Inc., until August 2023. In the meantime, the city plans to hire a consultant to draft a master plan for a homeless services strategy, with community input, that encompasses the wider Coral Street area.

However, some clouds are looming over the city’s homelessness action plan. Although funding exists for the first year of most of the efforts outlined in the plan, the question of where the city will get continued funding remains in limbo. Significantly, in the June primary, city voters rejected a proposed general sales tax measure that was to fund the city’s shared general fund and may have provided funds to continue supporting a series of homeless division staff, programs and shelters recently settled in the city after a year. a.

The city manager’s office released a newsletter this month outlining efforts to address homelessness and described the failure of the proposed Measure F sales tax as “narrow and disappointing,” noting that the loss of a new funding pipeline estimated at $80 million over the next decade “puts a significant strain on the City’s ability to address homelessness.

“These dollars could have been used to support essential community services, from addressing deferred capital and infrastructure needs to making continued progress on employee compensation,” City Manager Matt Huffaker said in the newsletter. . “The loss of this funding also compromises and may require that we scale back our progress on homelessness solutions.”

Parking strategies remain elusive

This month, the city’s ban on overnight parking on the street for oversized vehicles – namely recreational vehicles that their owners have used as makeshift dwellings – caught the attention of the California Coastal Commission during a a citizen appeal process. The latest order, like a previous version of the law that was signed into law in 2016, struggled to get approval from the commission. The city will need to bring the ordinance back to the commission for further review before attempting to move forward with enforcement.

Part of the oversized vehicle parking ordinance has made small progress, however. A three-level parking alternatives program plan includes, to date, several spaces have been identified as emergency overnight parking at the City Police Department at 155 Center St. and a reservation parking program of “level two” which initially accommodated six vehicles. The most elaborate program, providing continuous parking space, was contracted out to the Association of Faith Communities, which for years has run its own SafeSpaces program in the parking lots of local religious institutions across the county. The non-profit organization “The Free Guide” will manage the day-to-day operations of the city’s parking program, starting Aug. 1, according to the organization’s executive director, Evan Morrison. The land can accommodate approximately 20 to 22 oversized vehicles, with more possibilities, depending on the space available

Santa Cruz County has successfully supported two of its four Homekey Project projects to date, with $6.4 million set aside for the Veterans Village motel conversion project in Ben Lomond, including 20 permanent housing with support services, and $10.7 million for the 35-unit modular module. construction of supportive housing at 2838 Park Ave. in Soquel. The second project faced organized resistance from neighbors, raising concerns ranging from increased crime and loss of native habitat to alleged fire code shortcomings in the project’s design and lack of access to nearby services.

One of the unsuccessful applicants for Homekey project funding was Housing Matters. The organization, located at 115 Coral St., was seeking additional financial support for its planned 120-unit permanent supportive housing project. Executive Director Phil Kramer said the nonprofit is applying for multiple grants and may seek a third round of Homekey funding in the future, if needed. The organization also secured the use of the former Polar Auto site at 114 Coral St. for homelessness-related services and nearly completed efforts to renovate a Victorian home around the corner at 801/ 803 River St., for seven supportive housing units. and resorts are expected to open as early as October.

Housing Matters’ Kramer said that across Santa Cruz County, some 400 people were housed in 2021, a fact that should be celebrated, but continued to provide him with limited comfort in his profession.

“What we do is work – people stay housed, but we don’t meet the needs,” Kramer said. “I think that’s the most desperate part of it all, is having hope that we know what to do and some desperation that we don’t have enough resources to do what we need to do.”