Casa Azul opens the door to Supportive Housing in Santa Cruz County (Lookout Santa Cruz)
On a sunny weekday in September, the first residents moved into Casa Azul, a new seven-unit permanent supportive housing residence in Santa Cruz owned and operated by Housing Matters.
The line of seven people waiting patiently to move into the studio and one-bedroom apartments may not look like much to passersby, but this was a monumental accomplishment for these residents — and for the way our community addresses homelessness.
It was one of the best working days of my life. A lot of the people we work with are so often disappointed that housing opportunities don't work out and that they don't have access to shelter.”Evyn robles, Housing Matters Director of campus and housing
Each of the seven individuals who moved into Casa Azul had been unhoused for more than five years — there’s a lot of trauma that comes with the experience of homelessness and these folks had seen it all.
“Seeing the relief on their faces when they learned they had a permanent place to live was incredibly heartwarming,” Robles said.
Casa Azul, located across the street from the Housing Matters Campus, at 801 River St. in Santa Cruz’s Harvey West area, is the first occupied Project Homekey-funded development in Santa Cruz County. Project Homekey is a $1.2 billion state program that provides local government agencies with funds to purchase and rehabilitate housing and convert properties into permanent, long-term housing for people experiencing homelessness.
All of the residents at Casa Azul were program participants of the Recuperative Care Center (RCC) at Housing Matters. Just six weeks after becoming housed, a resident who has been a “long-time favorite” of our community and who has struggled with substance use for decades has been able to remain clean and sober.
“To see the light in their eyes, and to see them follow up on tasks and medical appointments in a way that was nearly impossible to do before has been a joy,” Andrea Eaton, Housing Matters RCC Program Manager, said.
Being housed inspired another resident to begin their substance recovery journey by beginning medication-assisted treatment because they no longer felt like they had to use substances to survive. The stability of permanent housing allowed a third resident to navigate the complexities of arranging the logistics of a long-overdue surgery.
“There have been many physical improvements that permanent housing has provided, the emotional wellbeing of our residents has improved as well” said Eaton, adding that the new residents appear to have renewed interest in creative and personal development such as the desire to create art and start business ventures.
All of this, and more, was accomplished in less than two months because the Casa Azul residents had the capacity to focus on new opportunities once their housing situations became stable .
Clifton, a resident at Casa Azul, explained the urgent need for permanent housing in Santa Cruz County.
“There are a lot of false promises when you’re homeless. People get their hopes up about housing or some opportunity and then it doesn’t happen,” Clifton said. “That’s why you see people sitting outside crying, because everything just falls apart over and over again. For Casa Azul to come along is great because it gives everyone out there hope. Casa Azul [has given] me security. It makes me feel excited. We all need hope, especially the homeless. Hope is really lost out there on the streets.”
Casa Azul is one of four Project Homekey sites in Santa Cruz County. Originally a single-family Victorian home built in 1903, Housing Matters acquired the long-vacant property in 2019 and began a major renovation
“The folks who moved in are among the most medically vulnerable and they would not see an opportunity like this in another housing situation,” said Robles. “This place is tailored for them — it’s in the neighborhood that they’re familiar with and has ongoing support from the RCC staff. These are people who have had a really tough time in the last few years, and this is their time to get a break. Housing Matters staff made thoughtful choices when selecting apartments for the seven individuals. The person who enjoys cooking has a larger kitchen. The gardener’s apartment has a lot of natural light. The guitar player has a porch.”
Housing Matters believes housing is a human right. People should have the ability to lock their door at night, make themselves meals, lay down on a bed, and be able to decorate a space the way they like. Permanent supportive housing provides one of the best opportunities for people experiencing chronic homelessness to establish housing stability and begin meeting life goals, such as recovering from physical and mental health issues, and securing employment.
Casa Azul is just the beginning. Housing Matters will break ground in 2024 on Harvey West Studios, a 121-unit, 5-story permanent supportive housing project on the Housing Matters campus. The project, financed through $55 million in state and federal grants as well as a robust capital campaign, will include a recuperative care center and a health clinic on the ground floor, as well as community space and peer support services.
Want to learn more about permanent supportive housing? You’re invited to attend “Community Connections: Key to Resolving Homelessness” a locally-sourced dinner benefit from 1440 Kitchen Table and panel discussion being held Wednesday, Nov. 29, at the nonprofit 1440 Multiversity campus in Scotts Valley from 5-9 p.m.
The event is centered around increasing awareness of opportunities for the Santa Cruz community to get involved with supporting our unhoused neighbors.
Miracle Messages Founder, Kevin Adler will be the keynote speaker and he will discuss his new book, When We Walk By. There will be a panel discussion around houselessness and connection featuring: Adler; Tom Stagg, Chief Initiatives Officer at Housing Matters; Paz Padilla, Director of Programs and Impact at Community Action Board of Santa Cruz County, Inc., and Dr. Robert Ratner, Director of the Housing for Health Division of the County of Santa Cruz. The panel discussion will be followed by a Q&A and a Resource Fair (Housing Matters, Community Action Board, Miracle Messages, County).
Tickets are $85, with proceeds benefiting the participating nonprofits. RSVP by Nov. 22. Click Here for more.