The homeless problem in Santa Cruz is no secret. Travel down Pacific Avenue or look near the Clock Tower, and you’ll see that the moderate weather and accessible resources create a welcoming environment for the less fortunate—so much so, that the City of Santa Cruz just hired Brooke Newman to serve in the city’s newly created role of Homeless Response Manager (more on her in a later edition).
While some companies are working tirelessly to address the problem (full disclosure: I work for one of those awesome companies), there are agencies who are specifically dedicated to helping solve the issue, person by person. Meet Cassie Blom and Phil Kramer, movers and shakers with Housing Matters, a 501c (3) nonprofit located on Coral Street. They run four separate shelters on their two-acre campus, and they’ve got their eyes open for new methods of serving an underserved population. Housing Matters recently placed an order for ten individual Pallet shelters from Washington state-based company Pallet, costing $8,000 each, installed: Read on to learn more about this innovative approach to resolving homelessness.
Press Banner: How did you become aware of these shelters?
We learned about these shelters while attending the National Alliance to End Homelessness conference in February of this year.
PB: I see that you've received ten of them thus far. Is this a pilot project? Do you anticipate ordering more to meet the needs of the chronically homeless?
First, a little background about the Paul Lee Loft, which these structures have become a part of: The Paul Lee Loft is one of the four shelters we run on our two-acre campus. It has 40 beds, and is a dormitory-style shelter with bunk beds. The Loft serves single adults, many of whom have struggled with chronic homelessness. The only requirement for staying in the Loft -- as with all our shelters -- is that the client is actively working on a housing plan; that is, an individualized plan, with the support of staff, to secure permanent
housing. The average length of stay in the Loft is about 6-12 months; as long as someone is making progress on their housing plan, they can stay as long as they need to.
The ten shelter structures that we’ve received are serving dual purposes:
1) They’re helping us respond to the coronavirus pandemic by allowing us to create more distance between residents of the Paul Lee Loft (bunk beds don’t allow us to meet distancing recommendations);
2) They’re serving as a pilot to see if these structures would be a simple, affordable, durable way to expand our physical infrastructure in the near future, and expand Loft capacity (that is, add net new beds).
PB: How did you determine who was eligible for moving into one of the shelters? What was your criteria?
Currently, the shelters are being used by clients who were already living in the Paul Lee Loft. Our staff worked with clients on an individual basis to determine who was the best fit for moving from the dormitory into a shelter. We also have ten fully outfitted tents, being used in the same fashion as these shelters.
PB: What is the length of stay for each occupant?
The length of stay is the same as for the Paul Lee Loft, typically 6-12 months. As long as someone is making progress on their housing plan, they can stay as long as they need to.
PB: Is this the reason that Coral Street is closed?
Yes and no. We have been working with the City on plans to close Coral Street for quite some time. The pandemic expedited those efforts.
Closing Coral Street to vehicle traffic provides multiple opportunities for Housing Matters, the City, and the County to provide better service to people experiencing homelessness. In conjunction with the closure, the City and the Tannery have been instrumental in identifying new parking solutions in the neighborhood for our shelter residents and staff who work at the Coral Street Campus.
With new parking identified, we can use more of the campus footprint for tents and the Pallet shelters, which allows us to create the proper space between Loft residents’ sleeping quarters.
The closure of Coral Street also opens up several opportunities; we’re currently working closely with the City to determine the next steps.
PB: Do you anticipate that this will help lessen the transmission of COVID-19 in the homeless population?
Yes, absolutely. We all know that social distance is a critical factor in slowing the spread of COVID-19. These Pallet shelters are a crucial part of creating that distance for our current clients.
PB: What criteria will you use to determine the success of this effort?
As the Pallet shelters are a part of our existing Paul Lee Loft shelter program, we'll be looking for continuity in our current housing rates, length of stay, and client experience. We prioritize our clients' sense of safety, independence, and support; ensuring the Loft provides a space conducive to healing, recovering from their experience of homelessness, and working on their housing plan. For the structures themselves, we'll be evaluating how well they meet their intended purpose: are they as durable, comfortable, and secure as we expect? All of these factors will inform our estimation of how successful these structures are.
PB: Have you checked in with any shelter recipients to gauge their feedback?
Yes. The structures aren’t yet occupied, but the conversations we’ve had with our Loft residents who may be moving into them have all been really positive. Most people seem pleased to have more privacy with the Pallet shelters than they have in the dormitory-style Loft. The vast majority of our shelter residents have been willing to move their living quarters in the interest of responding to the pandemic.
Interested in being part of the solution? Find more information on Housing Matters at housingmatterssc.org.