by Becky Johnson
July 28, 2011
Santa Cruz, Ca. -- It's homeless census time! The United Way of Santa Cruz County along with the Community Action Board released their findings on Thursday and a subsequent SENTINEL article screamed of a "22% increase in homelessness in Santa Cruz County since 2009." I highly doubt that. I don't believe there ever was a significant dip in the numbers, although homelessness in Santa Cruz, which hosts literally millions of tourists every year, does fluctuate in numbers, but remains somewhere between 1% and 3% of the general population. This year, with 2771 enumerated, and a population in 2010 of 262,382, puts our homeless population at slightly more than 1% of the population.
My question for the citizenry is this: why can't a County and City as wealthy as Santa Cruz take care of the 1% of its citizenry who have no roof to live under?
What is it about us that we will throw money away arresting and jailing these people for sleeping or covering themselves with a blanket when we know this will only increase their alienation, desperation, and isolation? These current public policies only DEEPEN homelessness.
What follows is the SENTINEL editorial which does not raise any alarms (calls it "offering insight"), and fails to point out the obvious disparity between available shelter and the verified number of people experiencing homelessness. Even worse, attempts to blame the victim by claiming that the response to one question "shows" that homeless people became/continue to be homeless because of drugs or alcohol rather than the disparity between wages and the cost of housing. I cannot forget the politicians and business owners who shouted the loudest when a grassroots committee tried to raise the minimum wage in the City of Santa Cruz. They are more responsible than anyone for these high numbers.
---Becky Johnson , Editor
SANTA CRUZ SENTINEL EDITORIAL
As We See It: Homeless survey offers insight
Posted: 07/28/2011 01:30:56 AM PDT
FOUND ONLINE HERE.
A few missed paychecks.
For some families and individuals in Santa Cruz County, that's all that stands between a roof over their heads and an uncertain existence -- a month couch-surfing with friends, maybe a week in the car, then a shelter or camping out in some out-of-the-way spot.
The most recent look at homelessness in Santa Cruz County -- a count and survey conducted by the United Way of Santa Cruz County and the nonprofit research firm Applied Survey Research -- shows that the homeless population in Santa Cruz County has jumped 22 percent in two years. There were an estimated 2,771 individuals without homes in the county in January, according to the homeless census. The tally in 2009, the last time a count was taken, was 2,265.
The major causes, the report concludes, are what you would expect: a sputtering economy in which many people are being jettisoned from once stable jobs coupled with increasing local rents. As homes prices fall, and more people purchase homes to live in, rents on those remaining rentals inch up.
But homelessness is complicated, and attributing it solely to hard economic times does not fully explain what is a vexing community problem. That's part of the value of the census and survey.
It's not just one number -- or one conclusion. The report looks at many things -- the ages of the homeless, where they come from, the benefits they use, the problems that landed them on the street. It offers interesting glimpses into the problem.
Numbers can be deceiving. This year's homeless figure is 2,771; the number is based on a count by about 50 volunteers who fanned out countywide to places the homeless are known to gather. But experts then extrapolate those point-in-time numbers and conclude there are actually closer to 9,000 people homeless in the county at any given time.
Addiction plays a role. Sixty-three percent of the roughly 500 people surveyed reported having disabling conditions. The most-cited condition [38 percent] was alcohol and drug abuse, followed by depression and other chronic health problems.
Few would argue the homeless have it hard on the streets, but the numbers are alarming. According to the federal government, the average life expectancy of an American is 78 years. The average life expectancy for someone without permanent housing is between 42 and 52 years.
The majority [65 percent] of those surveyed receive some sort of government assistance, with food stamps overwhelmingly the assistance used most.
Contrary to what you see in the online comments on most any Sentinel story on homelessness, the majority of those on the streets are not out-of-county residents who came to the area to take advantage of local services. Sixty-seven percent of survey respondents indicated they were already living here when they became homeless.
Homeless parents are like most all parents, fighting to do right by their kids. Ninety six percent of homeless parents with school-age kids in tow had those kids in school.
Young adults look to be increasingly affected. There were 99 young people without shelter in 2011 compared with 34 in 2009.
There can be a legacy of homelessness. The data showed 23 percent of homeless youth reported at least one parent was or had been homeless.
Homelessness was up in all cities in the county except for Watsonville, which saw a slight decrease from 561 people to 530.
Santa Cruz had the highest number with 1,070, up 169 from 2009. Scotts Valley went from no homeless to 13.
While the jump in homelessness in the past two years is disappointing, homelessness in the county is still down from a count of 3,371 in 2005.
The biannual census is required for the county to receive $1.7 million in federal homeless-assistance funding annually. But another important facet is its ability to change the debate around the local homeless problem.
It reminds people that there are many roads to the street, that it's unfair -- impossible actually -- to stereotype the homeless. They're young, they're old, with kids and without. Maybe they're struggling with addiction or suddenly jobless. Maybe it was just a few missed paychecks