Santa Cruz County homeless services network earns $200,000 grant


Santa Cruz Sentinel
Jessica York 
A countywide initiative to better assess, track and assist the area’s homeless population will get a boost into the 21st century this year with the help of a $200,000 grant.
The funding, benefiting the United Way of Santa Cruz County’s new Smart Path to Housing and Health Program, came from Dignity Health Dominican Hospital’s corporate office and was one of five new Social Innovation Partnership Grants given out systemwide this year.
Dominican awarded another $92,000 at its annual community grants program luncheon Tuesday to the Homeless Services Center, United Way, Rotacare Santa Cruz Free Clinic and Encompass Community Services.
The United Way’s Smart Path program will use an existing assessment questionnaire utilized by the 180/2020 program, working to house the chronically homeless, and connect it with modernized technology — in this case, a San Jose-based company’s still in-development mobile application. Information entered at one location is then shared, with participants’ permission, with the rest of the county’s partners through a joint database, said United Way Executive Director Mary Lou Goeke.
The new effort, to be managed by a Homeless Services Center-hired program director, would differ from the existing system by automatically offering referral opportunities to the county’s various service providers. Professionals also would have access to each client’s service history, Goeke said. As an example, Goeke cited a male adult showing up at the Pajaro Valley Shelter Services, which serves only families with minor children. The existing system might cause workers at the shelter to simply turn the individual away without assistance, she said.
“(Under Smart Path), the staff there would go ahead and sit with the person, give them the questionnaire, understand their needs and determine where is the right place for that person to go where they can get help,” Goeke said. “What we’re saying is there’s no wrong door. Wherever you go, you’re going to get assessed and pointed in the right direction for housing and help.”
Goeke said the grant will make into reality an effort dreamed up by the Homeless Action Partnership, a Santa Cruz County collaboration of local agencies addressing homelessness, and codified in last year’s “All In: Toward a Home for Every County Resident” strategic planning document.
The rollout for Smart Path’s implementation hinges on completion of the mobile application, but is expected this year, Goeke said. In the meantime, a program director position will be advertised and filled, she said. The new director will first train the county’s homeless service providers in using the database and technology, then move on to community clinics in its second phase, Goeke said.
“They have been working diligently to not just simply put a band aid on issues that are affecting the homeless population, but really looking at sustainable options,” said Martina O’Sullivan, Dignity Health Dominican Hospital’s community engagement director. “This is one piece that will connect all of the services that are working with this population, and not just the services you might think, not just the hospital, not just the homeless services center. There may be a whole cadre of other agencies working to help.”