Santa Cruz County homeless population down 44 percent

Santa Cruz County homeless population down 44 percent Santa Cruz Sentinel By Samantha Clark The number of Santa Cruz County residents living on the streets, vehicles, shelters and encampments fell to the lowest level in a decade, according to a biennial census released on Wednesday. The homeless count, which was conducted in January, showed a 44.5 percent decrease in the number of homeless people since the last survey two years ago. The city of Santa Cruz had a 38.5 percent drop, a 48 percent drop in Watsonville and a 63 percent drop inside the unincorporated areas. “We know that homelessness tends to be a lagging indicator of economic recovery and that’s a contributing factor,” said Peter Connery, vice president of Applied Survey Research, the Watsonville firm that conducted the census. “We also know that there’s a lot of local efforts that have been successful and a greater awareness of homelessness now.” Despite the encouraging direction, advocates and public officials reminded that 1,964 people still don’t have their own address. They attribute the progress to a variety of services, such as housing assistance, shelter programs and job training. For the next year, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors approved hiring a new homeless coordinator to help oversee countywide efforts, including the new “All In” strategic plan to address and prevent homelessness. A major key strategy in the plan is to streamline housing and services to improve access. “We don’t have enough resources, but we do have a variety of resources and we have to make sure we use them as effectively as possible,” said Julie Conway, the county’s housing coordinator. Chris Brown, a Santa Cruz resident who was chronically homeless, struggled through the maze of services at first, but now he has a full-time job and apartment with his wife and baby. “We know you’re lost, so let’s show you the resources — that’s what worked for me,” he said at the report’s release event Wednesday. Coordinating how people get help will become even more important given cuts to the Homeless Services Center faces. After the nonprofit learned it wouldn’t receive a $350,000 grant that it’s received for more than a decade, it decided to close most of its walk-in daily services in July, including 50 emergency beds, meals, laundry and showers and bathrooms. That loss combined with new costs and fewer donations total to a $600,000 budget shortfall. The center’s services bring hundreds of people into the center daily, which is how it reaches out to the homeless population. As soon as people sit down for a meal, staff learn about them, asking their housing situation and their medical conditions. Advertisement “We start a conversation with them,” said Claudia Brown, the center’s board president. “If those services go away, how do we outreach to these people who need our help? It’s going to be very difficult.” In addition, the center now doesn’t have enough money to give its annual $150,000 contribution to the 180/2020 initiative to end chronic homelessness locally. Brown said the cuts are “a huge blowback” to the momentum shown in the census. To maintain their eligibility for federal homeless grants, communities conduct a “point-in-time” count every two years, which provides a snapshot of the local homeless population. In comparison, the 2013 numbers painted a less pretty picture. Homelessness shot up 28 percent then, with a staggering 3,536 people identified by paid homeless and volunteer counters who fanned out onto streets, the forest, creeks, shelters and transitional housing. the 2015 Homeless Census • The number of homeless in the Santa Cruz County fell from 3,536 to 1,964, 892 to 497 in Santa Cruz, 497 to 257 in Watsonville and 1,372 to 429 in the unincorporated areas. • Nearly 70 percent were “unsheltered” and living on the street, in vehicles or in encampments. • The primary cause of homelessness for the chronically homeless are job loss, 29 percent, and substance abuse, 25 percent. • Of the homeless counted, 155 are veterans, 53 percent reported a health condition and 32 percent spent at least one or more nights incarcerated in the past year. • The number of homeless families, 144, which represent 25 percent of all homeless people in the county, dropped 2 percent, since 2013. Source: Applied Survey Research To view the 2015 Santa Cruz County Homeless Census and Survey full report see attachment below.