How $14.5 Million Will Help Address Homelessness

This post originally appeared as a Guest Commentary in the Santa Cruz Sentinel on July 21, 2021. 

The City of Santa Cruz recently received $14.5 million from the state to address homelessness, thanks in large part to leadership by state Sen. John Laird, state Assemblymember Mark Stone, and Santa Cruz Mayor Donna Meyers. These funds could go a long way to helping people who find themselves in the crisis of homelessness.

The big question is, how should the money be spent?

This one-time funding should be spent strategically to achieve the greatest and most lasting impact on this very complex issue. We offer eight key principles to guide the process:

1) Don’t reinvent the wheel.
2) Have measurable objectives.
3) Focus on solutions that recognize the unique situation of each individual.
4) Keep health and healing at the center of all the work.
5) A mix of short-term and long-term solutions is needed.
6) This is one-time money, so prioritize investments that will have lasting impact after the money’s gone.
7) Make sure the implementation process is both inclusive and also quick.
8) Never forget that housing is at the heart of every solution to homelessness.

Back to the question of how to spend the money. The good news is there is already a playbook that sets out the solutions that will generate the greatest impact. It’s called Housing for a Healthy Santa Cruz: A Strategic Framework for Addressing Homelessness in Santa Cruz County.

The Framework is a comprehensive three-year plan developed recently by the County of Santa Cruz Housing For Health Division in collaboration with local government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and people with lived experience. This important plan is drawn from the experience, expertise, and engagement of a broad set of community stakeholders. The Santa Cruz City Council reviewed and accepted this plan just two months ago.

The plan has four strategic pillars: Build a Coalition, Prevent Homelessness, Increase Connections, and Expand Permanent Housing. The latter two are especially appropriate because money spent toward them can be clearly measured for impact.

Increasing Connections includes a focus on addressing street homelessness through shelters, ensuring they are safe and supportive environments, with care management, housing navigation, and financial supports that help shelter guests secure housing.

Expanding Permanent Housing includes a goal to develop or purchase units specifically targeted to people experiencing homelessness, with an expanded rental assistance program to help people and families who have lost housing to quickly return to housing.

At the end of the day, the goal is to have a lot fewer people in Santa Cruz who are unhoused. With adequate resources and effective planning, there is a pathway to housing for everyone. Invested strategically and with compassion, $14.5 million will pave a pathway to housing for hundreds of our unhoused neighbors.

We believe these new state funds position the City of Santa Cruz to make a real difference in the dire homelessness situation our community faces. Let’s work together thoughtfully. Let’s get this right.

This Guest Commentary was co-authored by Cecilia Espinola, Board President of Housing Matters; Casey Beyer, CEO of the Santa Cruz County Chamber of Commerce; and Christine Sippl, a Santa Cruz resident.