During the last week of January communities around the country conducted a federally-mandated point-in-time (PIT) count of their homeless populations. This count, required by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, is used to help governments (at all levels) allocate funding and track progress toward the goal of ending homelessness.
In California, while the overall number of homeless remained relatively stable, the number of unsheltered homeless has been growing. The state has approximately 25 percent of the nation’s homeless population. According to the recent PIT count, 69 percent of those counted were unsheltered. Here in Santa Cruz County the problem is particularly acute with over 80 percent of our local homeless population unsheltered. Many of our local homeless population faces substance use disorders, mental health challenges or other barriers that make stabilization difficult. Under this backdrop, what resources are available?
New Funding Comes from the State
In 2018, the State approved unprecedented funding to address homelessness, allocating $500 million to the Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP) and increasing funding to the ongoing California Emergency Solutions and Housing (CESH) program. Both programs are administered through the local Watsonville/Santa Cruz City/County Continuum of Care (CoC), with the local share of HEAP funds totaling $9,674,883.45 and CESH funds totaling $889,424.
Recently, the County and Homeless Action Partnership announced award recipients through the HEAP/CESH funding process to help address the local homelessness crisis.
The awards include funding for site acquisition, operation of North and South County navigation centers, safe parking programs, a youth homeless resource center, rapid rehousing and homelessness prevention services, housing navigation, work experience, hygiene services and much more. In total, 35 applications requested more than $30 million, with 22 projects awarded for a total of $8,975,556.
The awards were issued based on a priority matrix developed by local elected officials, community members and nonprofits and were selected through a rigorous review process. This funding is on top of the significant work and funding that the County already does through its Health Services and Human Services departments.
This funding is an important first step, but realistically is still far from what is needed to address the problem locally. While the number of unsheltered homeless in the mid-county area are much less than in Santa Cruz city or Watsonville there are many people that are housing insecure (meaning they are one paycheck away from being unable to pay for housing or are living in substandard living conditions) in our area. Significant cost-of-living pressures (in housing and other costs), especially in the senior community, continues to put our neighbors at risk.
It’s important to invest in preventing homelessness (by keeping seniors and other at-risk populations from losing housing), than it is to re-house someone that loses housing. Ensuring we have enough local affordable housing, ensuring that we have transition housing, safety net services and more are all part of the equation. The new funding is an important step, but is still just a step. We have a long way to go to put a significant dent in local, state and national homeless numbers.
As always, I appreciate hearing your thoughts. Feel free to call me at 454-2200 with any questions or concerns you might have.