The Footbridge Services Center—which maintains the only storage and laundry services for unhoused people in the area, and the only low-barrier women’s shelter and warming center in the county—will be closing most of its services in the upcoming weeks.
Since it opened a decade ago, Footbridge Services has provided shelter for nearly 200 people a night during winter days when temperatures dropped below freezing. In the past five years, the center has also provided storage for more than 1,000 people who are unhoused, and completed more than 10,000 loads of laundry. Every Sunday, people in the Benchlands have been able to use its shower service, and access dozens of free hygiene and clothing items. Most recently, in 2021 the program opened up a women’s shelter for 12 people in its makeshift building.
Outside of the warming center, all these services will be coming to an end within the next few months.
Brent Adams, the founder and program director of the center who has been running its various programs for the past decade, says a combination of increasing financial limitations and personal frustrations led to his decision to close all of Footbridge Services’ programs by November, with the exception of the warming center. The latter will continue to operate this winter, but Adams suggests that beyond this year, the future of the warming center is uncertain, as well.
Homeless-service experts are worried about the deficit of resources this closure will leave behind. Many of Footbridge Services’ programs are the only ones of their kind in the county.
There’s also the timing of the closure, coming as the City of Santa Cruz shuts down the Benchlands encampment, where an estimated 300 unhoused people are residing.
“Footbridge closing these services is going to prolong peoples’ homelessness,” says Evan Morrison, who has worked in the homeless services sector for the past five years and is now the executive director of the Free Guide. “That these services are not going to exist during the Benchlands’ closure will really hinder people in that transition,” he says.
Financial constraints aren’t the whole reason for the services closing, but they are a large part of it, Adams says.
Organizations like Kaiser Permanente, Sisters of the Holy Names and Community Foundation Santa Cruz County all contribute financially to various Footbridge programs. In total, between October 2020 and November 2021, Footbridge received around $90,0000 from organizations and foundations. The program also relies on individuals giving charitable donations; the largest donation a Footbridge program received in that same time period was upwards of $53,000, gifted from one person. Individual contributions in totality accounted for $80,0000 of that year’s budget.
The program runs on these donations and volunteer time. Between October 2020 and November 2021, Footbridge programs received just over $218,000 in total funding, with operation costs coming out to around $161,000, according to records reviewed by GT. That left just around $56,000, money that Adams says gets eaten up quickly by Footbridge’s ongoing programs.
The rent for the building that Footbridge calls home is unbeatable, a price cut especially for Adams. The location is ideal for the services Footbridge is providing—the center is located at the end of Felker Street, right at the head of the San Lorenzo River trail. But recently Adams’ landlord informed him that in the next year or two, the building will be renovated into a condominium, which means Footbridge will have to relocate. Finding another deal like that will be impossible, Adams says.
There’s also the personal financial burden that is, and perhaps always has been, unsustainable. For years, Adams has been paying himself a meager salary, while also running the entire suite of services that Footbridge provides. In that same financial year, Adams lived on a salary of $19,000.
“I myself have become a singular tentpole. It depends solely on me to continually raise funding, manage the program, direct the program; you know, all elements of it,” says Adams. “It’s classically unsustainable.”
Adams laments the financial strains of the organization, and assigns blame in part to the city and the county.
“Our needs-oriented services—storage, shelter, laundry, showers, everything you have in your hygiene cabinet, Qtips, razors, deodorant, toothbrushes, feminine products—is a complete suite of homeless services under one roof,” says Adams. “We do the lion’s share of work out here, and the city and county arrive for free on our backs.”
According to Adams, the city has made empty promises to work alongside Footbridge. The only funding provided in the last fiscal year from the city went toward the program’s shower program at the Benchlands. Adams has applied for other funding aid, and even though city officials say they support his work, he says it’s largely lip service.
As a recent example, Adams says Larry Imwalle, the city’s Homeless Response Manager, personally asked him to submit a proposal to work with the city as it creates its own storage program. Adams shows the proposals the program submitted, along with a proposal requesting funding from the city for the Women’s Shelter he operates.
Adams never heard back about his requests.
Imwalle confirmed that Adams’ application was reviewed and denied for the storage program, but says he is not at liberty to go into detail on why it was rejected, given the city is actively reviewing other proposals for a storage program. He cites a similar reason for not confirming whether the city received a proposal for the Footbridge Women’s Shelter.
At the county level, Adams says the Watsonville warming center had previously received funding in $15,000 quarterly increments for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 winter seasons. But since then, the county has ceased that funding, with officials saying they are moving in a different direction. Adams declined to apply for the Collective of Results and Evidence-based (CORE) Investments program in recent years, as the funding available for the number of organizations applying would mean less money than the hassle was worth.
County spokesman Jason Hoppin says these types of critical services are under constant re-evaluation, and noted that Adams failed to apply for CORE funding during the previous funding cycle.
It’s this combination of financial strife with a lack of recognition at the city, county and community level that ultimately led Adams to make the difficult decision to shut down most of his services.
“What I’m doing is I’m literally going to use the closing of these programs to highlight and to try to revamp the citizen orientation around homelessness,” Adams says. “But it really is painful. It’s extremely painful for my clients.”
The city has officially closed the northernmost portion of the Benchlands, as it moves to shut down the homeless encampment in stages, and a reported 29 individuals living there faced eviction.
Footbridge ending its storage program will have significant detrimental effects on the unhoused population in the Benchlands, says Morrison.
“Storage is an absolute necessity,” he says. “It’s just as high of a priority as food and water and shelter. Not being able to secure your stuff keeps you from being able to take more positive steps forward in your life.”
At the moment, the city has no plans for additional long-term storage options. What officials are working on now, as the encampment closes, is a temporary storage unit that will hold people’s belongings that were left behind.
As for the potential closure of the warming center in future years, or the women’s shelter that Footbridge provides, the city will not necessarily be stepping in to fill those roles.
“Trying to expand shelter options is one of our primary strategies,” says Imwalle. “That doesn’t preclude funding a warming center type project at all. But the focus is on expanding shelter opportunities, and that’s our priority.”
But Morrison worries about this focus on shelter. There are people who will not choose to use a shelter, but who will use a warming center on especially cold nights, and will also use supportive services like storage and laundry. The women’s shelter closing, and it being the only one of its kind in the county, is also cause for concern.
“The women’s shelter is just a handful of beds, but that’s a handful of beds more than nothing that help address a serious need,” says Morrison. “And then the warming center, the idea that the warming center might go away is scary. If the warming center doesn’t exist, we’re going to see a direct correlation between cold nights and people who are homeless and die.”