Community collaboration leads to Housing Now
It takes the whole community working together to help those experiencing homelessness find pathways to permanent housing. One new program, Housing Now, moves people beyond the temporary shelter provided through state programs like Project Roomkey and into more permanent housing.
In the spring of 2020, as COVID-19 continued to spread throughout Santa Cruz County, the need for additional shelter options that would allow those experiencing homelessness to safely social distance and shelter in place became abundantly clear.
Housing Matters, a leader in creating pathways out of homelessness and into permanent housing, was one of several local organizations that stepped up to quickly shelter vulnerable members of the community as the pandemic began.
We had expanded our Loft [emergency shelter for individuals and couples] capacity through the addition of 40-pallet shelters when COVID began, but we soon discovered that wasn’t enough. We needed to step up alongside other leading organizations and local governments to find solutions to protect our most vulnerable neighbors, and fast.
— Tom Stagg, Chief Initiatives Officer at Housing Matters
Point-in-Time Census and Survey data revealed that roughly 2,167 people were experiencing homelessness in 2019. To meet the urgent need to help everyone safely shelter in place, County officials approached Housing Matters to assist in creating new shelter options. Stagg worked closely with County and local government officials, sharing insight and best practices and helping to train staff and guide operations. The collaboration quickly resulted in opening two new congregate shelters: one in Watsonville and one at the Veterans Memorial Building in Santa Cruz.
At the same time, California implemented Project Roomkey, a federally funded initiative for homeless relief. More than 300 people began moving off the streets and into shelters at local hotels and motels in the County.
“One of the most hopeful and positive things I noticed throughout this time was that a lot of the red tape and processes that slow things down really fell aside. We all came together and found a way to make it work as a community,” Stagg said. “But we knew the funding was not going to last forever.”
Those placed into shelter through Project Roomkey would need long-term housing options to support them beyond the program’s end date. Project Roomkey prioritized the elderly, people suffering from disabilities, and those recovering from illnesses.
Collaboration is the key
To ensure that people would continue to be housed even after Project Roomkey ended, Housing Matters launched its newest program — Housing Now earlier this year. The program grew out of the County’s “Rehousing Wave,” a partnership to connect those sheltered through Project Roomkey with supportive services and assist them on pathways to permanent housing.
In partnership with the County of Santa Cruz and Abode Services, Housing Matters’ Housing Navigation Team began working with roughly one-third of the 300 people sheltered by Project Roomkey.
“The main goal of the program was to make sure that these folks who we know are incredibly vulnerable don’t go back onto the streets,” stated Pan Narez-Mendez, Program Manager at Housing Now, “we searched for housing everywhere. From big property management companies to Craigslist and word-of-mouth. We were looking for every possible lead on housing in the community.”
Are you a landlord?You can receive a signing bonus of $2,000 when you rent to someone who is currently experiencing homelessness. Learn more about the benefits of accepting Housing Choice (commonly referred to as Section 8) vouchers by contacting the Housing Authority of Santa Cruz County at: (831) 454-9455.
One of the people helped was a man named KC, a 72-year-old cancer survivor who had been on and off the streets since he was a teenager. He was provided a hotel room through Project Roomkey in August 2020. We caught up with KC after he moved into his new home.
Housing Matters participant, KC shared, “I couldn’t believe I was going to be off the streets. I was very grateful to the cops for getting me a room. It was a huge relief. While staying in the hotel, I began working with a case manager from Housing Matters to find a place to live permanently. We searched for quite some time and eventually, I found a place and moved in. It made a world of difference. I was able to sleep in a warm bed and shower, use the toilet, and keep myself clean. Now that I’m off the streets, I really do think I have a chance at finding some peace.”
KC was able to enjoy a stable home for the final months of his life, before passing away earlier this fall.
Making magic happen
Last year, the Santa Cruz County community doubled its shelter capacity to house its most vulnerable neighbors as the pandemic continued to spread. The key to making this happen? Working collaboratively with local agencies and partner organizations. Housing Matters was honored to bring more than three decades of experience in addressing homelessness to join these important efforts.
It takes all of us in collaboration to help those experiencing homelessness find pathways to permanent housing. It’s when we work together that the magic happens.
— Phil Kramer, Chief Executive Officer of Housing Matters