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August 12, 2022

County pilot program aims for unified approach to homelessness

SANTA CRUZ—The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a project designed to integrate clinical, mental health and housing services to help the county’s population of homeless people with mental illness and substance use disorders

The Mental Health Services Act Innovation Plan is slated to run from April 1 through June 30, 2027.

The program is made possible in part by the California Mental Health Services Act, which provides funding for counties to create innovative practices to address mental health needs, said County Adult Services Director Karen Kern.

It was inspired in part by a recent survey, which found that 500 fewer adult clients were seen in 2020 than 2019, the majority of whom were homeless, Kern said. Many of these people were having a hard time accessing services as several shifted during the pandemic to online or phone.

Through the program, health officials will offer clinical care at the street level, with the ability to connect from the field. It also provides case management for clients, as well as peer support and crisis intervention services.

“The services provided through this project will provide an opportunity for participants to receive care wherever they are,” Kern said. “It will allow participants to direct their plan and build those trusting relationships with providers. It allows for us to coordinate all the health outreach and housing stability resources for our unhoused community, and it also provides for a single platform to coordinate efforts and referrals and provide data on the people we’re serving.”

The program will add 12.5 full-time employees, including a project director, a program coordinator, an administrative aide, two nurses, a mental health client specialist and a case manager. 

The first two years of the $8.6 million program will be funded with the County’s Mental Health Services Act’s Innovations funds, to the tune of $5.7 million.

The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Healing the Streets Program will kick in $1.2 million, while the Federally Qualified Health Center program will contribute $1.2 million.

Supervisor Ryan Coonerty expressed concern about the county’s dwindling shelter and housing space and asked that the participants be directed to services outside the county.

“…we have 2,000 people on our section 8 list, and so if we give someone a section 8 voucher for Santa Cruz County, the likelihood that they are going to get housed is very low,” he said. “And when we have 3,000 homeless people and 300 shelter beds, the likelihood that they will even get shelter is very low.”

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