The results from the 2011 Santa Cruz County Homeless Census and Survey were released recently. What did you learn about homelessness in your district?
The report was just released and is very comprehensive. There’s a lot to digest, and I’m still reviewing it to better understand the full gravity of our homeless situation as it exists today.
If you looked at this issue on a district-by-district basis, the picture’s incomplete. For instance, the data for the San Lorenzo Valley shows that homelessness has actually decreased significantly from previous years, though the number of homeless for the county as a whole has risen. This tells me that we need to keep working on a countywide basis with local governments and nonprofits to reduce homelessness.
An element of the report that stood out was the fact that so many of the people counted are relatively new to homelessness. We’re seeing more families, older adults, and youth on their own in this demographic. The report also highlights that a full two-thirds of those counted in the census lived in the county prior to becoming homeless, which clearly dispels the myth that our homeless are generally a group of shiftless outsiders. They are, in fact, our neighbors, our friends, and our family members. In these tough economic times, anyone can be at risk.
What efforts are in place to combat homelessness in your area?
Much of my district is a fair distance from much of the housing and social service programs in Santa Cruz County. For this reason, local people really come together to help each other out. Their willingness to help their neighbors and a community spirit are a big part of all efforts in my district.
Nonprofits play an equally important part. For example, Mountain Community Resources (MCR) in Felton is a key place to go for families and individuals in my district when they are homeless, at risk of homelessness, or have other needs. MCR offers a range of services, and can connect people to other critical resources around the county.
Another great resource for folks is Valley Churches United Missions (VCUM), which provides a number of critical services for our homeless and underserved population. VCUM is currently in the middle of its backpack drive, which supplies disadvantaged kids in my district with new backpacks and necessary school supplies.
There are many housing and social service programs that serve people countywide, but are not physically located in my district. Thus, a big part of helping people in the Fifth District involves ensuring they have access and transportation to programs located downtown in the City of Santa Cruz or elsewhere.
We know we cannot do it alone in my district. As the report shows, homelessness is a countywide problem in Santa Cruz County. We support the County’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness and working collaboratively with local governments and nonprofits throughout the county to combat and end the problem of homelessness.
You were recently elected as Vice Chair of the California Coastal Commission. What do you believe the role of the commission is, broadly speaking, and has its role evolved since it was founded?
The California Coastal Commission (CCC) is a regulatory body that, under the authority of the Coastal Act, seeks to protect the 1,100 miles of California’s beautiful coast. Each local jurisdiction located in whole or in part in the coastal zone (like the city of Santa Cruz and the county of Santa Cruz) implements the Coastal Act through the adoption of its own Local Coastal Plan (LCP). Once an LCP is adopted and approved by the CCC, it’s the basis for land use decisions in the Coastal Zone. Those decisions don’t normally need to be heard by the CCC unless appealed on the basis that the decision is not in accordance with the LCP or unless the local jurisdiction requests an amendment to the LCP. Of course, this is a very simple statement of what amounts to a complex relationship between the CCC and local jurisdictions. We have been working lately to improve those relationships up and down the coast, mostly by improving communications.
The role of the CCC has not changed much over the years, but the commission itself certainly has. For example, I was appointed almost two years ago and already there are only three commissioners (of 12) with more seniority than I. Such a dramatic change in the make-up of commissioners is rare and has not happened for years. Time will tell as to the effect of the recent changes, but it is a prepared, thoughtful and collegial commission that takes its job seriously. I could not ask for more.