At least 1,150 people housed through historic housing program since launch in 2012

 

 

It started as a Countywide initiative to house 180 people as part of the national 100,000 Homes campaign. The idea was to combine resources and expertise across city, county, and nonprofit agencies to house as many chronically homeless, medically vulnerable individuals as possible before the campaign’s July 2014 deadline — helping them completely turn their lives around (180 degrees) in the process.

 

At the time, Phil Kramer (now Housing Matters CEO) had just returned from the Peace Corps and was volunteering for the Homeless Garden Project. There he met Monica Martinez, former Executive Director for Housing Matters (then known as Homeless Services Center), who asked him to help lead the initiative. 

 

“It was a concentrated multi-agency effort around a specific goal inviting communities to participate. But joining the national campaign didn’t come with any money,” remembers Kramer. There were no vouchers, and no funds for housing or staff — just intellectual knowledge and tools for community outreach and assessment. 

 

Participation in the 100,000 Homes campaign required that communities declare a goal. In the absence of substantial data on the number of chronically homeless people housed in a given year, the team worked with multiple agencies to estimate how many people could be housed. After coming up with an estimate of 177, the team set their collective sights on housing 180 people total. The effort became known as the 180/180 initiative.

 

A winning formula

 

The initiative was an undeniable success. By July 2014, 180/180 had helped house 204 people — adults who had previously been unhoused for a year or more, and who also struggled with one or more disabling health conditions. 

 

What seemed to be working was the collaborative effort among multiple agencies to combine housing with healthcare and other needed services, as they worked through a list of people identified as potential candidates. A coalition of organizations that included Housing Matters, Homeless Persons Health Project (HPHP), Encompass Community Services, Santa Cruz AIDS project, Front St. Inc. (a behavioral health agency) and volunteers met regularly, evaluating each unhoused person’s needs on a case-by-case basis. 

 

Following the Housing First model, the coalition focused on finding housing for each program participant as a first step. Once housed, participants were then connected to healthcare, substance abuse programs, and job placement services as needed. Case management for each person in the program continued for one year, resulting in an estimated 75% retention rate.

 

“A lot [of staying housed] has to do with mental health, observes Maile Earnest, 180 Together program manager who joined Housing Matters in 2013. “Once someone is housed, those issues that led to someone’s experiences don’t just go away. They need to be managed.”

 

Then and now

 

Following on the heels of its 2014 success, the 180/180 initiative evolved into an on-going program called 180/2020, with the goal of reaching functional zero for people experiencing homelessness in Santa Cruz County by 2020. The program continued to grow, with organizations such as the Santa Cruz County Human Services Dept., Association of Faith Communities, Wings, and the Santa Cruz Housing Authority joining the program’s roster of collaborative agencies. Now known as 180 Together, the program has housed at least 1,150 people to date. The goal of ending homelessness still drives this and all Housing Matters programs.

 

“These are people who might not be alive today,” says Earnest of the chronically homeless individuals the 180 Together program serves. She references a somber statistic — the deaths of 92 people, just in 2021, who had been experiencing homelessness in Santa Cruz County.

 

“There’s so much that a person [who is chronically homeless] has to overcome … all that trauma has an impact.” A lot goes back to why that person lost their housing in the first place,” Earnest says. 

 

Now, in 2022, 180 Together is celebrating a bittersweet anniversary following a loss of public funding. The expectation is that 180 Together program participants will continue to be served through other Housing Mattes programs –  evolving and tapping into available resources to better reflect the shifting focus toward permanent supportive housing (PSH) and housing as healthcare.

 

Housing Matters is stepping into a new role in the community as a housing provider, building permanent supportive housing (PSH) on campus to give chronically homeless individuals a permanent place to call home while providing immediate access to co-located community resources and healthcare services. Harvey West Studios, a 120-unit residence now in development, will provide housing for those most in need.

 

One of the advantages to offering PSH directly on campus is that residents can work with health providers and case managers, and even attend support groups, without having to travel anywhere, says 180 Together’s Earnest. “Easy access to healthcare and regular follow-up are really important to helping these high-risk individuals stay housed.”