By Mary Lou Goeke, Monica Martinez and Gary Merrill
Special to the Sentinel
POSTED: 10/26/2013 01:18:34 PM PDT
We all want a Santa Cruz County without homelessness, and together we can get there. We do not need to reinvent the wheel to turn the corner on this communitywide problem. There are existing smart solutions to homelessness that have been proven to be successful here and in other communities and by implementing these solutions, our entire community can benefit from programs that are cost effective, evidence-based, and measurable.
Right now, Santa Cruz County finds itself in a highly opportune moment. New data has been released through the 2013 Homeless Census and Survey, new recommendations are being gathered, and much dialog is occurring about how to respond effectively to homelessness in our community.
We know from national data reported over the past two decades that homelessness is not just a local concern -- it is a broad societal issue with many systemic root causes. Instead of taking a Band-Aid approach to solving homelessness or shifting the location of the problem to different areas of the community, we must address these underlying root causes.
Some of these systemic root causes can be likened to faucets pouring a steady stream of people into homelessness, both locally and across the nation. For example, one faucet is the current foster-care system which is not adequately resourced to effectively prepare youth with the skills they need for self-sufficiency. As a result, data shows that 1 in 2 foster youth will experience homelessness. In addition, while the level of support for our returning veterans is improving we still know that 1 in 8 vets will become homeless and cuts to mental health care have caused many people to fall through the cracks. And lastly, we all recognize that a weak economy has led to unemployment that often results in loss of housing.
Fortunately, by implementing evidence-based, cost effective and measurable smart solutions, many cities have already decreased homelessness by more than 25 percent, and are making rapid progress toward curing this epidemic.
Some examples of smart solutions in action:
Let's begin to picture a Santa Cruz County without homelessness by identifying and implementing Smart Solutions that address both immediate and long term needs. This is OUR community and together we can get there!
Mary Lou Goeke is executive director of United Way of Santa Cruz County, Monica Martinez is executive director of the Homeless Services Center, and Gary Merrill is a business consultant and member of the Smart Solutions to Homelessness Leadership Council.