HEAP: The Future of Homelessness in Santa Cruz County

By: Josephine Buchanan

As part of a law signed in by our previous Governor Jerry Brown, Santa Cruz County is set to receive $20 million over the next two years in the form of a grant to address the homelessness crisis. This funding called HEAP (Homelessness Emergency Aid Program) is a $500 million block grant program designed to provide direct assistance to cities and counties to throughout California. Since learning of the grant Santa Cruz County has begun collaborating with the city of Santa Cruz how to best utilize the funds – funds that carry a two year deadline to be spent completely – including but not limited to the 2×2 committee made up of two City Council Members and two County Supervisors. At the same time, tension has been brewing regarding the future of the River Street/Highway 1 Camp, and both the City and the County are seeking a more permanent solution.

The impact of homelessness throughout Santa Cruz County is self-evident and something that is a near constant topic from all fields and communities. In what was an incredibly united and collaborative meeting yesterday morning before the Board of Supervisors, individuals from all over the county, and all walks of life came forward to share their support of extended services and shelters throughout the county. Constituents spoke to their disappointment of the closure of the River Street Camp without a true next step in place, and that this newest camp is merely a symptom of the problem. Speakers asked for immediate action both to help this vulnerable population but take action to improve the health and safety and of their businesses, schools, and neighborhoods by providing true shelters and services.

The generous support was so palpable that Supervisor Zach Friend said, “No one has ever come in here and said, ‘build a homeless shelter near me, build services next to me, no one has ever said build a homeless camp next to me.’ Ever.”

In a unanimous vote the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors asked for the immediate spending towards:

  • New Laurel Street Salvation Army family shelter
  • New 1220 River Street program
  • Expansion of the Association of Faith Communities shelter program,
  • Initiation of a small-scale safe parking program
  • Expansion of Warming Center capacity, and continuation of Veterans of Foreign Wars program in Live Oak
  • Provide $5,000 in funding to the current warming center
  • Provide 30-day closure and shelter transition notice to the residents of the Gateway Plaza Encampment on February 13 with a planned full abatement by March 15.
  • Designation of a new navigation center by July 2019.

The Santa Cruz City Council passed their own package of items late last evening in a flurry of motions and amendments that left it unclear what they had actually voted on. The motion from Councilmember Glover passed, with support from Vice Mayor Cummings, and Councilmembers Brown and Krohn. We will keep tracking this and relaying information as it becomes available/known.

You can read more about the Board of Supervisors hearing as well as the funds themselves here.