How can you shelter in place, when you have nowhere to shelter? This is the reality for homeless people in Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz has a big population of homeless people in their town. If homeless people can't shelter in place, how will they stay safe in the pandemic?
When the pandemic started the county of Santa Cruz created an emergency task force to help anyone that couldn't shelter in place. Some of the county employees became part of the task force. I interviewed David Brown, a worker in the task force to find out more.
The first thing that the task force did was look for places to be made into shelters. The first one was the Vets Hall in downtown Santa Cruz. They went on to create others, such as the Simpkins Swim Center in Live Oak. They also used four hotels to isolate people who were exposed.
But it wasn't just that, if you are on the streets, you also need food, clean clothes, and also transportation. So how do you get all those things for so many people? Everybody started working together. Many different local businesses donated or provided (for a low cost) their services to help the task force. such as the Salvation Army, Encompass Community Services, Vapor Cleaners, and the Santa Cruz County animal shelter.
Most recently, the Santa Cruz task force has opened up an area for a special population of homeless so they can shelter in place and be well fed and safe. They are turning it into an RV park on the grounds of the Seventh Day Adventist Church Conference Center.
Part of the center when no one is there
The population are transitional youth, young adults (18 and up) who were transitioned out of the foster system. They are too old to be in the system, so they are let go. But when they are let out, they have no where to go. Santa Cruz task force employee, David Brown, explained how important a youth shelter was:
" For a hundred years we haven't had a youth shelter here and youth just age out of the system and hopefully they do well. Most of them don't do well. Most of them become homeless. About half of them end of in jail later on in life just because they've been living on the streets."
This new RV park area is a way to help these youth learn life skills and have a home. Encompass community services, a non-profit organization, will be helping to run the RV park.
The RVs were donated by an anonymous donor to the state, then given to the task force. There were approximately 12 RVs in the park, and there will be 3 people in each one living together. The RV park will provide the youth 3 meals a day and a laundry service, while maintaining social distancing.
David told us how the pandemic helped to make this youth shelter happen. He reflected that it was truly amazing because it had never been done before in Santa Cruz:
"With the Pandemic, that allowed us to get rid of a lot of the rules...because the health officer wants everybody to shelter in place...if you don't have a shelter your'e still moving around, you're still trying to find your breakfast, your lunch, your dinner...that's not good...you're still moving around...you're going to get sick and maybe spread the sickness."
David, and others, hope that the shelter will remain open, even after the pandemic is over, because it is so needed for young adults who still need support.
The last thing I asked David was: "How can kids help?" This question I have asked myself many times before, but not a lot of meaningful things came to mind. But Dave said that there was one way. He thought that kids like me could help tell people stories and spread the word about organizations and projects that are helping people in need. He told me about Digital NEST: an organization that helps low income youth learn about digital technologies. These include programming, website building, and gaming. I also found another organization, called the Story Center, which is a place where people around the world can share their amazing stories with the world and share their difficulties and successes. The links are below:
DIGITAL NEST: https://digitalnest.org/
STORY CENTER: https://www.storycenter.org/