In June 2021, Senator John Laird secured $14 million in homeless funding for the City of Santa Cruz. $4.6 million in pandemic relief supplemented the city’s efforts to curb homelessness.
As of June 2023, $12.6 million of that one-time funding has been spent to stand up shelters and provide services to the city’s 1,028 unhoused residents. Current funding will run out by June 30th, 2024.
Deputy City Manager Lisa Murphy said the city is “exploring the opportunity” of putting a sales tax measure in front of voters to bring in more funding for homeless services. An initiative to raise the city’s sales tax by 0.5% for general city needs failed narrowly in 2022.
Combatting homelessness is historically the county’s domain, but the one-time funding marked a paradigm shift in the city’s response to the homeless. The city created a three-year homeless response plan, which the city credits with its 30% drop in homelessness. A total of 74 people who participated in city programs moved to permanent housing in the city, county, and elsewhere—although it’s unclear how many of those people maintained their housing, as the city does not have long term data on people who rehouse.
“We are cautiously optimistic that the programs that we have stood up are working. Our momentum is very strong right now,” said Murphy.
The crown-jewel of the city’s homeless response is the Armory shelter at the National Guard Armory at DeLaveaga Park, which provides 135 beds, three meals a day, healthcare and transportation. According to the city, 32 people moved to permanent housing from the Armory. The city has spent $5.4 million on the Armory after taking over responsibility from the county, which discontinued services in June of last year.
California Governor Gavin Newsom did not provide “long-term sustainable homeless funding” in the state budget this year according to Murphy. Instead, funding comes in the form of one-time grant money that counties and the 13 largest cities fight over. The county isn’t much better off: HUD gives the county’s Continuum of Care around $5 million yearly.
“You got to give people someplace to go, while they are waiting for this housing to drop out of the sky,” said Murphy. “The city can’t operate this alone. We need help from our partners. Our partners include the state. It includes the county. It includes the other cities. Us having this shelter benefits the whole county.”