"When Chad Platt was 18, he said he was homeless, living with friends for six months, even while holding down two full-time jobs.
Having just emerged from nine years in the foster care system, Platt said he could have easily “slipped through the cracks he now fights to fill,” were it not for a strong support system. As a member of Encompass Transition Age Youth Services, Platt, now 24, assisted in January’s count of homeless youth under the age of 25.
Platt spoke during a press conference Thursday, where results of the 2017 countywide Homeless Census & Survey were released.
Santa Cruz County’s count of homeless young people under the age of 25 more than doubled in two years: There were 588 reported in 2017, with just two percent who were considered sheltered. The census excludes those who are living in a hotel, doubled up in a single unit or temporarily “couch surfing” with a friend.
Santa Cruz County Homeless Services Coordinator Rayne Marr said it is difficult to say what caused the increased number of tallied homeless youth. Marr said she suspected it was part economic downturn, part improved methodology. Census takers were under a federal mandate to help set a baseline count for homeless youth with the 2017 numbers.
“I believe that it’s substantially higher because we’re counting better,” Marr said. “I was in a car, driving around with teens who said, ‘Go here, this is where they’re going to be hanging out,’ and ‘Go there.’ We did all this hot-spotting work up front in meetings with the Youth Advisory Board where we had maps up on a screen.”
Santa Cruz County’s homeless young people comprised 26 percent of the overall homeless count.
The every-two-years census showed a reported overall 14.5 percent increase countywide in those experiencing homelessness, compared to the same count in 2015; The county’s reported 2,249 homeless people, said census consultant Applied Survey Research’s John Connery, “should be considered a minimum number of homelessness in Santa Cruz County.”
Putting those statistics into context, the 2017 results report the second lowest count over a 12-year reporting period, after a spike in 2013 and at least a 10-year low in 2015, according to Applied Survey Research data. Data was collected during a one-day federally mandated “point-in-time” tally in January plus through 450 one-on-one surveys collected over six weeks.
Marr said the latest youth count results reinforces ongoing efforts to go beyond programs that single out former foster youth and probation-involved homeless youth.
“Youth actually have special needs. I think that they’re less mature, they’re coming out of traumatic situations where they are sexually and commercially exploited,” Marr said. “When they don’t seek services, they’re not getting the help that they need.”
For those without housing of all ages, the count showed that a majority have called Santa Cruz County home for at least 10 years, Santa Cruz County Supervisor John Leopold said.
“There are some interesting pieces of information, but most important is that the people who are experiencing homelessness are our neighbors, our family members, our friends and our coworkers,” Leopold said during the event. “When you look at the numbers of people who are experiencing homelessness who lived in a home in Santa Cruz before they experienced homelessness, the number is 68 percent.”
Thursday’s press conference was held at the recently completed St. Stephens Senior Housing, hosting 40 units for low- and extremely low-income seniors at 2510 Soquel Ave. Betsy Wilson, housing director for the project’s developer, MidPen Housing Corp., said such new affordable housing is a major solution to the homeless problem. During a three-week period in February, MidPen received more than 800 housing request applications, she said.
“For every person who moved in here, there are dozens more who still need assistance,” Wilson said.
A collaboration of Santa Cruz County governments, service providers and community groups had begun to include young homeless people as a focus in the 2015 “All In — Toward A Home For Every County Resident” strategic plan. Marr said the regional Homeless Action Partnership recently completed the first draft of a strategy to roll out a federal $2.2 million Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program, among other grant initiatives.
As with Santa Cruz County, homeless populations counts, youth and otherwise, were similarly on the rise across numerous California regions this year. Monterey County experienced a 23 percent homeless increase, Alameda County had a 39 percent increase, Butte County had a 76 percent spike, Santa Clara County saw a 13 percent increase, Los Angeles County a 23 percent increase and Sacramento County a 30 percent increase. San Mateo County’s count went down by 16 percent."