SANTA CRUZ — Even though a census from a single winter night shows homelessness is on the rise in Santa Cruz County, officials are touting dramatic progress in reducing the number of families living homeless.
The Santa Cruz County Housing for Health Collaborative has released preliminary results from its point-in-time homeless count conducted in February, coupled with biographical information obtained through a series of detailed follow-up census questions.
Compared to 2019 data, the 2022 tally shows a 59% decrease in homelessness among hosted and non-hosted families. Among homeless families who had no shelter, the number fell by 94%, according to the report. The 2019 report found that Santa Cruz County had approximately 122 homeless families with 419 members – 85% of whom were unhoused. The report’s summary speculates that factors that reduced the population of homeless families included “significant investments in resources and collaborations focused on serving these populations, combined with more community supports and housing options on the private market for these groups.
The summary report notes that a conservative estimate of the county’s homeless population has seen an increase of about 6%, to a total of 2,299, since the last federally mandated full count in January 2019. Of the registered homeless population, more than 77% – 1,774 – were living homeless, according to the data. By comparison, Monterey County homelessness decreased by 15.5% and Bay Area homelessness increased by an average of 9%, according to the summary report.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the typically biennial homeless count occurred in a twinned version in 2021, limited to counting those staying in shelters at the time. The County Housing Division for Health plans to conduct the census annually, rather than every two years, in the future, authorities said.
Meanwhile, regional efforts to house veterans have lost significant ground since 2019. The county’s homeless veteran population has more than doubled from its 151 veterans count in 2019. Between 2017 and 2019, Joint efforts to reduce the local population of homeless veterans reduced the size of the group by 36 percent, according to the 2019 Santa Cruz County Homeless Census and Survey Full Report. The 1,073 people self-reporting substance use disorders and 818 with serious mental illness also represented “statistically significant increases”. No details were provided, but the elderly homeless population has also seen a significant increase, according to the report.
“Limits in resources and eligibility to serve these populations, limited housing-focused scope, stigma associated with behavioral health issues, and closures or reductions in residential capacity during the pandemic may have contributed to these increases” , says the Housing for Health Partnership press release.
The summary report points to a regional housing shortage supply, as well as high housing costs, as both a contributor to homelessness and an inhibitor to solving the problem. According to the report, some 35% of homeless people receiving subsidized housing vouchers were unable to find housing. The finding is consistent with the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s report last month, ranking the Santa Cruz-Watsonville metro area as the second most expensive area in the country for renters.
IF YOU ARE GOING TO
What: High-level county summary presentation at any given time.
When: 9 a.m., Tuesday.
Where: Santa Cruz County Supervisor’s Meeting, 701 Ocean St., Room 525 or us02web.zoom.us/j/84078327816.