The economy has taken a toll on the Santa Cruz Homeless Services Center (HSC) in recent years.
Over the past three years, they have seen their funding from the City and County of Santa Cruz drop nearly 30 percent, while the 2011 Santa Cruz County Homeless Census and Survey compiled by Applied Survey Research says the number of homeless people in the county has jumped 22 percent since 2009. Fifty-two percent of the survey’s respondents reported that this was their first time experiencing homelessness, citing joblessness as the main cause—indicators, says ASR, of the recession’s influence on homelessness.
These diverging numbers do not phase political activists like Conservative Party of California (CPC) Vice Chairman Harold Hervey of Los Gatos. He says that the solution to both government debts and the HSC's funding problems is to put more money in private hands so they can address the problems facing communities.
“These groups require and depend on private donations, and the only way they can get them is if people have spare funds,” says Hervey. “To do this they need jobs.”
This encapsulates the message from Republicans across the country, even in the strongly Democratic California: cuts to government funding of “charities,” such as Medicare, Section 8 housing assistance, and non-governmental agencies, are necessary to save the economic future of the United States. The Constitutional Tea Party Patriots of Santa Cruz County, based in Scotts Valley, did not respond to Good Times’ interview requests.
The Conservative Party's stance is that private groups offer more effective help to those in need because the people running them care about their causes more than government employees.
Groups like HSC fall into a gray area of these categories. It is not part of the government, but relies on public funds for 55 percent of the money it needs to house people at their family shelter, and offers crucial services such as showers, laundry and an address to people who are unable to get into the shelters. These are tools that make looking for work and applying for other assistance easier, and have prevented many people from falling into a cycle of chronic homelessness.
The remainder of their $1.9 million budget comes from private sources including the Packard Foundation, the Community Foundation Of Santa Cruz, and contributions from individuals. Monica Martinez, HSC director, says that because most of these funds are dependent on the economy, money from these sources has been evaporating, though not as drastically as the cuts imposed from public sources.
“[Continued cuts] could limit the number of people we will be able to serve at Day Services like meals and showers,” Martinez says. “When we receive thousands of dollars in cuts, there is simply no replacement.”
Many of the programs Hervey calls charities prevent people from ever having to ask the HSC for help in the first place. There are more people asking the Housing Authority of Santa Cruz County (HASCC) for rental assistance this year than anytime in the agency's 42-year history, according to Executive Director Ken Cole. There are more than 4,000 people currently receiving help and thousands more on waiting lists for a variety of programs they offer.
“We closed our waiting list at 15,000 in early July,” says Cole. “It was getting so big that it wasn't worth managing.”'
Instead of helping people get back on their feet, Hervey says that these programs only add to the number of people asking for help.
He looks back to the era before President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal established most of the social safety net programs people still turn to in times of need today. This has reversed the order in lines of defense against poverty, according to his party.
“It used to be people helped themselves, then turned, in this order, to family, their church, to neighbors, with local, state and federal government for help,” he says. “Now liberals have turned that hierarchy upside down, so people look to the federal government first, and help themselves last.”
He says that if tax rates were lower, groups like the HSC would be funded in full. The CPC's homepage quotes Samuel Adams in saying, “It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an engaged, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people’s minds.” Hervey makes no secret of his belief that tax rates should be lowered for the richest in the country so they can hire people and fully fund nonprofits.
“That's where the local charities should start looking for money...from private citizens and corporations,” Hervey says. “They fund charities based on what they like and they do a better job than government.”
Twin Lakes Church in Aptos is one private group that is stepping up efforts to help the homeless and low-income residents. They are in the process of collecting school supplies for students that can't afford them in a drive called Stuff The Bus. Private citizens, many whom are members of the church, have donated piles of backpacks, pencils, calculators and more for kids throughout the county to help them prepare for school in September. Twin Lakes Local Outreach Associate Karen Watkins has been sorting through the mountains of supplies and fill backpacks in a way that will fit the needs of age groups from preschool through high school.
The church also distributes free food on Wednesdays. Watkin says she doesn’t feel that the people collecting the food are any different than anyone else who happens to be doing well at any given time, and takes pride in offering her help.
“In this community, homelessness is a huge issue,” says Watkins. “We not only have a moral obligation [to help], but we have all experienced hardship at some point.”
Peter Connery, vice president of ASR, is happy that Twin Lakes is going to these lengths, but says there is no evidence to show that private money alone can save nonprofits in time to maintain services without disruptions.
“I don't think there is any correlation to show that. I don't think that is ever the case,” says Connery. “That is asking: will the invisible hand control the market? No it won't. It never has.”
Cole, of HASCC, says the current push to privatize more of the wealth in America is just a phase, but will show visible results in the near future with more homeless on the streets, unless the economy reverses course dramatically. He is also concerned about people who have been unemployed for so long that they no longer even register on national statistics, and doubts that many of them will ever recover if assistance is not available.
“We are creating such a low under class of people they decide or get pushed to drop out of the public eye,” he says.
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