How COVID-19 has Impacted Santa Cruz County’s Homeless Population

Written by Konnor Long (News Writer)

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted homeless populations across the nation. According to the National Law Center on homelessness & poverty, homeless individuals are three times more likely to be put in mortal danger by COVID-19 than the general population, with Santa Cruz’s numbers mirroring this average. Earlier this year, Santa Cruz’s Community Advisory Committee on Homelessness (CACH) devised a report detailing their intentions and preferred response to the homelessness crisis in Santa Cruz.

Shortly after, Santa Cruz County Supervisors redirected $20,000 towards a three-year plan which was to be finalized this October. Here’s what happened:

The initial plan’s aim was to implement $66.7 million towards the homeless population in a one-time grant. CACH has consistently voiced their desire to direct the majority of funds to erect homeless shelters and service centers, with new efforts being placed on creating sanitary environments. CACH has been putting pressure on the city council in recent months not to allow law enforcement to remove or relocate homeless camps during this time. Santa Cruz’s homeless services have adopted more flexible and COVID-friendly practices for both staff (and volunteers) and those who are being housed. Prevention efforts for providers include providing additional sanitary supplies to the homeless, as well as flexible attendance for staff members.

More controversial approaches have also been taken in the name of public safety, With responses such as the Santa Cruz Health Department’s decision to clear Coral Street earlier this year of 18 individuals. Before this, Coral Street was home to homeless encampments undisturbed for years.

In recent months, City Council has allowed Gatherings of homeless individuals who already exist to act as “ shelters in place.” individuals in the shelter have been given consistent testing, and hygiene products according to the Santa Cruz Health Services Agency. Three additional shelters have become available at the Santa Cruz and Watsonville veterans buildings. Earlier efforts in July of this year resulted in The Salvation Army, a long time shelter in Santa Cruz shelter closing. Each resident and staff housed during this time have all tested positive for COVID-19. A Santa Cruz county press release notes that they were all asymptomatic.

Santa Cruz motels have become leased out by the county, to provide for high-risk individuals. There have been criticisms for both the lack of response from Santa Cruz officials and the endangerment of homeless individuals being housed with those testing positive for Covid-19.

The comprehensive outline devised by CACH, Which detailed their plans to provide unprecedented housing to homeless people and models for shelter and safety which would allow them to participate in the community was approved in 2017, but more instrumental responses have not been made in light of Covid-19.

The models for large changes have been made. With CACH already outlining a COVID-19-friendly revision, the question that’s on the minds of the 78% of unsheltered homeless individuals in Santa Cruz, and much of the community — when will these changes be made?

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