Recent News: The City Council approved convening a homeless advisory committee at its April 9, 2019 meeting. The Community Advisory Committee on Homelessness (CACH) will provide a platform for the community to identify and explore causes and possible solutions to homelessness, as well as develop independent recommendations to address homeless issues. The CACH is seeking to add two (2) additional members who are currently experiencing, or recently experienced, homelessness. The application can be found here.
Homelessness is an extremely complicated and challenging community issue. Santa Cruz County is grappling with a substantial homeless challenge and sadly, we are not alone. Many other communities in California and around the country are experiencing a growth in homelessness.
While the City of Santa Cruz alone cannot solve homelessness, we can help to alleviate the suffering of many in the Santa Cruz homeless population and mitigate the related community impacts. In April of 2016 the City Council authorized creation of a six-month ad hoc Homelessness Coordinating Committee. The Committee's charge was to "cooperatively exchange information and identify actions to change homelessness in our community." The Committee convened in July 2016 and worked towards the goal of developing actionable solutions. In May 2017 the Committee released its report and recommendations, which include both near-term and long-term recommendations. City Council unanimously approved the Committee's recommendations and allocated nearly $1 million in the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget to implement solutions. Work on those solutions has begun; you can see a progress report that was presented to City Council on Dec 11, 2019 here.
In February 2018, the City opened a temporary emergency transitional camp facility in response to a signficant number of unsheltered individuals living in Santa Cruz County. The River Street Camp was intended to provide a temporary safe, secure place for unsheltered individuals to stay until a more suitable, long-term site could be found. Efforts to secure such a site stalled in response to community opposition to proposed locations.The River Street Camp closed November 30, 2018.
A Winter Shelter program opened on November 15th with 60 beds at the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post on 7th Avenue. The City and County are also providing funding to maintain 40 shelter beds at the Paul Lee Loft at the Homeless Services Center.
See the press release on the closure of River Street Camp here.
Scroll down to see a complete list of resources for those experiencing homelessness.
Below are links to the solutions the City is working to put in place, important reports and news updates, how individuals experiencing homelessness in Santa Cruz can get help, key partnerships to improve local conditions, frequently asked questions and information about how residents and businesses in Santa Cruz can help.
The City of Santa Cruz invests millions of dollars each year in a combination of homeless services and reacting and responding to the externalities of homelessness. From law enforcement interventions for people in behavioral health crisis, to clearing encampments, to providing direct funding to local non-profit service providers, the City has addressed this issue from many angles. Despite this significant investment of City resources and time, the problem of homelessness persists and is growing.
In response to this challenging reality, City Council adopted 20 recommendations, brought forward by an ad hoc City Council committee in May 2017. The recommendations are designed specifically to address the visible, unsheltered adult homeless population. These short-term and long-term horizon solutions chart a new strategic course for the City and community in addressing homelessness. Implementing the recommendations is a top priority for the City and this direction is woven into City Council’s Two-Year Work Plan.
The solutions, in totality, span the gamut of approaches to the issue, from direct homeless services, to a permanent, fully-supported, low-barrier shelter, to improved regional coordination, to stronger advocacy with our state and federal governments. The intent is to move these individual recommendations forward as a cohesive strategic package that builds toward and encourages long-term solutions that address the underlying causes of homelessness. The City has begun implementation of the recommendations, with Council appropriating nearly $1 million in the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget, and the City provided an update of those efforts in October 2017.
Short Horizon Solutions
The package of immediate actions is designed to address the most immediate impacts and issues related to homelessness. These actions require fewer resources (in comparison to the long-term actions) and are implementable in the near term (0-3 years). Short horizon actions include creating and supporting a countywide coordinated entry system; homeless outreach programming; jobs engagement for homeless individuals; storage, bathroom and shower facilities; creating a homeless coordinating committee between the City and County (elected officials and staff); homeward bound program; advocating for resources and policy at the state and federal level; and developing a funding source for housing among other solutions.
Long Horizon Solutions
Some recommendations will, by the nature of their complexity and funding requirements, take longer than others to implement. While the City implements the short horizon actions, it will develop momentum for the longer-horizon solutions (5 years and beyond) in partnership and coordination with Santa Cruz County and other partners. There is an immense need for year-round emergency shelter in the County that meets the needs of the homeless population. The ideal model for a shelter is to develop along the lines of the San Francisco Navigation Center Model. It is a full support, low barrier of entry facility that provides a one-stop facility that integrates rehabilitation, employment, shelter and wrap-around services under one roof. In order to achieve this type of model, the City will need significant resources and support from and coordination with Santa Cruz County and other partners. If that model is unattainable, other shelter approaches are available.
2017 Homelessness Coordinating Committee Report
The overall guiding document for the City’s approach to homelessness is the Homelessness Coordinating Committee Final Reports and Recommendations, delivered to City Council in May 2017. The report is the product of hundreds of hours of combined research and analysis of models, programs, policies and interventions employed by other communities to reduce the impacts of homelessness. The study looked at the formation and results of various policies, outcomes of programs and unintended consequences, and revealed how other cities, counties and states organized themselves to collaborate and coordinate on tangible solutions and systems improvements. The report summarizes the findings and presents 20 recommendations that are discussed in the "Solutions" section of this webpage.
- The City spends upwards of $17 million of city resources reacting to the impacts of homelessness (when accounting for police and fire calls for service, campsite cleanups, parking garage impacts and others).
- The City has one of the highest per-capita population of homeless who are completely un-housed (meaning they live their lives outside, with no shelter).
- Safety and cleanliness of our parks, open spaces and public spaces are concerns.
- While the problem is significant, there are solutions we can turn to that are evidence-based and have proven effective in other communities.
- Only with a cohesive package of recommendations, funded and prioritized by the City, Santa Cruz County and our other partners, can we make real improvements. This can be achieved by working together internally within the City and externally with our partners at the County, State and Federal levels who have the resources and expertise to improve the local conditions.
This 2015 report was the result of an inclusive 18-month process that joined together service providers, local governments, agencies, individuals with lived experience and other stakeholders to identify solutions to promote systems and housing solutions in Santa Cruz County. The report was referenced throughout the work of the City Council ad hoc Committee, and provided many recommendations for the Committee to consider when developing their report to City Council.
2017 Santa Cruz County Homelessness Point-in-Time Census and Survey
The 2017 Homeless Point-in-Time (PIT) Census took place on January 23, 2017, with a survey conducted over the weeks following. The PIT Census is a visual count of homeless individuals countywide. The counts measure the prevalence of homelessness in each community, and collect information on individuals and families residing in emergency shelters and transitional housing, as well as people on the streets, in cars, in abandoned properties, or in other places not meant for human habitation. The Homeless Survey, which supplements the PIT Census, is a two-page survey which helps gather basic demographic details about the homeless population as well as information on service needs and utilization.
Together, the census and survey provide the best estimate as to the size of the homeless population and the various needs that must be addressed in order to improve lives and reduce the overall prevalence of homelessness in Santa Cruz County. The data on homelessness serves as a benchmark moving forward, as the City and County can measure the collective impact of their efforts over time.
City Report from 2013
This report serves as a deep historical study of homelessness in Santa Cruz, as well as national and state responses to homelessness over time.
For individuals living without shelter, life is extremely challenging. There are many efforts in Santa Cruz County designed to alleviate the suffering of those experiencing homelessness. Below is a list of resources provided within Santa Cruz County, which include shelters, health care, food, employment and other basic needs service provisions.
United Way of Santa Cruz County 2-1-1 System
211 connects people to the assistance they need to address everyday challenges of living as well as those that develop during times of community emergencies.
Homeless Services Center
Provides transitional shelter, permanent housing programs and income and employment support to folks experiencing homelessness in Santa Cruz County.
Encompass River Street Shelter
River Street Shelter is a 32-bed emergency shelter for homeless adult men and women.
Families in Transition
Works partnership with families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless with housing opportunities and by providing participants with referrals to employment, training and educational resources.
Housing Authority of Santa Cruz County
Housing Authority provides Section 8 housing vouchers to qualified individuals to get long-term housing within in Santa Cruz County. The Housing Authority also provides financial assistance to qualified individuals who lack sufficient funds for a rental deposit.
Community Bridges, Meals on Wheels
Provides meals to low-income seniors at five dining sites in Santa Cruz County or deliver meals to the home.
Community Action Board, Rental Assistance Program
Eviction prevention program, which offers rental/mortgage assistance to Santa Cruz County residents faced with an eviction notice.
Homeless Garden Project
Provides employment opportunities to individuals experiencing homelessness in Santa Cruz County.
Downtown Streets Team
Provides employment opportunities to individuals experiencing homelessness in Santa Cruz County.
Santa Cruz County Veteran’s Services
Helps connect Veterans to important services and benefits.
Santa Cruz County Homeless Person’s Health Project
Full service, primary care health center, serving the needs of the homeless and low-income populations of Santa Cruz County.
Offers crisis response to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in Santa Cruz County.
Walnut Avenue Family and Women’s Center
Provides services to survivors of domestic violence in Santa Cruz County.
Siena Maternity House
Residential program offering housing and support for pregnant women in Santa Cruz County.
Advanced Recovery System
Provides support for individuals with addiction issues.
When the weather becomes very cold, call 211 to find out when and where Warming Centers will be opened
St. Francis Catholic Church Soup Kitchen
The St. Francis Catholic Kitchen provides food for the poorest in our community.
Santa Cruz County Winter Shelter Program
More information to come soon. The Winter Shelter Program begins in November.
If you are seeking a way to get to your home community, please contact the Homeless Services Center.
The issue of homelessness will not be adequately addressed without the comprehensive collaboration and coordination of the government and non-profit sectors. The City of Santa Cruz is committed to providing the resources and expertise it has to improve local conditions, and will work together with higher levels of government, non-profit service provides, and community members to implement solutions that address the root causes of homelessness.
There are many coordinated efforts underway in Santa Cruz County to address the issues and needs of homelessness. These include the County's Homeless Action Partnership (HAP) and Continuum of Care programs. The City of Santa Cruz helps fund the Homeless Action Partnership, which in turn funds programs like winter shelters for both north and south counties. More coordination like this is required to move the needle in a positive direction.
Below is a list of key partners in driving positive and lasting change.
Santa Cruz County
California State Assemblymember Mark Stone (Represents Santa Cruz)
California State Senator Bill Monning (Represents Santa Cruz)
U.S. Congress, Representative Jimmy Panetta
U.S. Congress, Senator Kamala Harris
U.S. Congress, Senator Dianne Feinstein
HAP: The Homeless Action Partnership (HAP) is the name of the collaboration in Santa Cruz County that acts as the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) mandated Continuum of Care. Consisting of representatives from the County and all four cities in the County (including Santa Cruz), the HAP helps coordinate on the Winter Shelter program and conducts the biennial homeless census and survey.
Non-Profit and Faith Community Partners
Association of Faith Communities Santa Cruz:
The Association formed to foster coordination between faith communities, to support the efforts of our members in their collective ministries to who are living in poverty, who are in economic need, or who are homeless, and to assist our members in enhancing the effectiveness of our individual and collective efforts
Encompass provides a wide variety of services to individuals experiencing homelessness, in addition to services geared towards improving the lives of individuals in differing circumstances.
Homeless Services Center
In Santa Cruz, the Homeless Services Center partners with individuals and families to create pathways out of their homelessness into permanent housing.
Smart Solutions to Homelessness
It truly takes a community wide effort to reduce the prevalence and impacts of homelessness. The City and its partners are working hard to improve how they coordinate systems and are providing more resources to the effort. However, when the community provides its knowledge, resources and effort, real and lasting change is possible.
You can donate your time, expertise or funds to any of the programs or partners identified in the other sections of the Homeless webpage.
In addition, you can contact your County, state and federal representatives and voice your support for prioritizing funding for solutions to homelessness.
1) How many homeless people are there in Santa Cruz?
According to the most recently conducted PIT (January 2017), there are 1,204 individuals experiencing homeless within the City of Santa Cruz. Of those, about 78% are unsheltered, meaning they live on the streets, in encampments or in vehicles. That makes Santa Cruz the 4th highest per capita population of homeless individuals in the State of California.
2) Why is there such a large visible population of homeless people in Santa Cruz?
Several factors may be contributing to the large visible homeless population. The high cost of housing and living in Santa Cruz are creating difficult conditions for those living on the margins. Despite efforts by the City and our partners to provide housing opportunities, some still find themselves homeless as a result of the current housing crisis. In addition, drug addiction, alcoholism, and mental health issues may lead individuals to fall into homelessness. Finally, there are insufficient shelter beds within Santa Cruz County, so many folks have nowhere to go at night to sleep.
3) What is the City doing to address homelessness?
The City has been responding the issue for years, both in terms of calls for services – police and emergency response, and through grants to non-profit service providers. However, that approach has not lessened the instances of homelessness nor the community impacts of homelessness.
City Council adopted 20 recommendations in May 2017 and provided nearly $1 million in funding for the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget to support direct services and new programming (like the Downtown Streets Team). The solutions adopted by City Council include both short horizon and long horizon actions. Successful reduction in homelessness and its community impacts will only come through partnership and coordination as the City is ill equipped to solve this challenging issue on its own.
4) What can I do to help?
You can make a donation or volunteer with the variety of non-profits and community groups that are working to address homelessness in the community. You can also advocate for change at all levels of government, including Santa Cruz County, the State of California and the Federal Government.
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