Santa Cruz Good Times

Nov 28th
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Homeless Census Unveiled

Santa Cruz County Homeless Census and Survey reports growing numbers

Every two years, early on a cold and dark January morning, a small army of volunteers and trained homeless guides canvas Santa Cruz County to take a headcount (or point-in-time count) of the area’s homeless population. This year, on Jan. 25, a grand total of 2,771 homeless persons were counted.


The effort, known as the Homeless Census and Survey, is conducted in part at the request of the country’s Housing and Urban Development (HUD) department, which needs to see the homelessness figures to dole out funds. The survey portion of the study is conducted later on the same day in January to obtain more qualitative data.

The results from this year’s count were released Wednesday, July 27, at a press conference held at Twin Lakes Church in Aptos. The 2011 total of 2,771 people is a leap from the last count in 2009, which reported a total of 2,265 homeless counted.

However, the actual number of homeless people in the county is a much harder figure to come by, said Peter Connery, vice president at Applied Survey Research, the nonprofit firm that conducts the census, at Wednesday’s press conference. “It’s always an undercount,” he said. “Statistically it’s hard to say what percentage of an undercount it is, but suffice to say there are more homeless than we noted in this study.”

They estimate that as many as 9,041 persons in the county experience homelessness on an annual basis. Connery attributes this gap to the fact that census takers are counting a population that, often times, doesn’t want to be found, and certainly is not always easy to see. He noted that many people who are homeless 51 weeks of the year could have been off of the street on the night the count was conducted—which not only means they weren’t counted, but also that they weren’t considered homeless by HUD. “If you shared a hotel room or were in a hospital or jail [that night], you were not considered homeless by the HUD definition,” he said.

However, all homeless persons who spent the night in a local shelter were included in the count. (The census is conducted very early in the morning, before the shelters’ open their doors to let the night’s occupants out, ensuring that those homeless are not counted more than once.)

Other notable findings included a 39 percent increase from 2009 to 2011 in the number of people who were experiencing homelessness for the first time. “We think that’s very much economically-caused,” explained Connery.

Connery went on to highlight findings that counter what he said are popular local misconceptions about homelessness, chief among them that Santa Cruz—and its homeless services—attracts homeless people. When, in fact, the 2011 Census and Survey found that 67 percent lived in the county before becoming homeless (up 5 percent from 2009). “We’ve got a homegrown challenge here,” he said.

The report also found higher numbers of homeless living in cars, vans, makeshift vehicles and encampments than in years past, as well as increased numbers of unaccompanied youth. These numbers may be higher, explained Connery, because of increased efforts on the organizer’s part to seek them out.

The press conference ended with a call to action from Twin Lakes Pastor Mark Hillenga, who challenged Santa Cruz County residents to get involved in helping curb homelessness. “See a need, do something,” he said.


View the full 2011 Santa Cruz County Homeless Census and Survey at Look for continued coverage of the findings in upcoming issues of Good Times.


Comments (5)Add Comment
written by Marisa, August 02, 2011
@Mother Theresa - what an interesting moniker choice given your apparent views on poverty. Just so you know, the survey administrators DO ask most of those questions, which is why they know that 67% of homeless polled were living in Santa Cruz County at the time that they became homeless. Of the "transition age youth" demographic of young adults up to age 25, 92% of them were living in Santa Cruz when they became homeless, and 87% of those had been living in Santa Cruz for at least 2 years. These are local kids who cannot find decent paying jobs. The majority of homeless in Santa Cruz are Santa Cruz County or Monterey County locals who have slipped from stability. It can happen because of death, illness, job loss, drug & alcohol addiction, and/or a host of other issues. Very few people, because of the extremely high cost of living here, have enough savings to provide for themselves were something terrible to happen. I am proud to live in a community that cares enough to provide compassionate support for people when they are struggling - for whatever reason. Just sayin'.
written by Louis, July 31, 2011
I was wondering about how they kept from counting twice but "The census is conducted very early in the morning, before the shelters’ open their doors to let the night’s occupants out, ensuring that those homeless are not counted more than once", pretty much explains it. This is great information and I hope that these numbers go down soon.
written by Mother Theresa, July 30, 2011
Answer is not rent control. That has been defeated twice in Santa Cruz. The liberal base of Santa Cruz opened up their arms to the homeless world among other things. The word spread fast "Go to Santa food, maybe lodging, very homeless friendly. Although it is interesting to monitor the numbers this only shows a peek of the situation. A sampling of homeless should be asked:

1. Where did you come from?
2. How long have you been here in Santa Cruz?
3. Why did you come to Santa Cruz?
4. How did you become homeless?
5. How long do you expect to stay here?

With questions like this one can get a handle on the situation. If Santa Cruz still wants to embrace and lure homeless...well thank your politicians. If however they wish to slow or end this problem, it;s simple. Stop the vagrancy tax on businesses downtown which would cut off the funding to shelters, food banks, etc.
Then do what many other cities and states do. Offer any homelsss a one way ticket to another city and give them $200...stipulating they cannot return.
Perhaps some of you recall the sheriff in one county of Florida who was doing this with AIDS infected homeless. Gave them a one way bus ticket to San Francisco, some money...problem solved.
written by wdhc, July 28, 2011
Thank you for writing this article. It really helps us, who have been pointing at the disconnect between wages and housing cost. many of us saw this coming for decades, and not just in Santa Cruz. It is not funny that in cities with high homelessness / "under-housed, " (where-ever there are 7+ old cars per house,) the rate of vacant real estate is also very high. What is unique to Santa Cruz however is this blame-game, once you are homeless, so agencies are not trusted by either side. Real estate interests are king here.
written by Chas crowder, July 27, 2011
yeah I got a solution.... Rent Control.... You almost have to have 2 jobs to live anywhere in Santa Cruz, Seriously look up Apartments/ Housing on Craigslist or anywhere they advertise. If you make Minimum Wage after taxes around{14%} it comes to about $6.88 an hour.even if you can find a 40 hour a week job that's around 275.20 per week. Average Rental cost over all is 800-1200 a month. Problem is if you even find a 40 hour a week job, at minimum wage you still only make 1100.80 a month after taxes... That is below the average rental price overall.... So I guess if you want to eat Ramen Noodles and Pay your Power- water-sewage- garbage- and rent Not to mention all the Highly Overpriced Organic Grocery stores. You might have enough to prevent homelessness for a few months, One Doctor visit would put you there.... 1 Parking ticket {we all know about those} Could make you Homeless. Anyone else see the problem?? Probably not... Mostly People just Talk in Santa Cruz, = No Action. If we called a fundraiser for numerous other events that dont involve sleeping under a bridge or starving to death you people would be all over it... "Hey lets save some stupid tree" while we let people die and starve yes children too, Santa Cruz Definately Does Not Have its Priorities Straight...

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