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Grand Jury Blasts Homelessness Leadership, Revisits Issues

Report calls out politicians and anti-homeless NIMBYs

Since the Covid-19 pandemic started, the city of Santa Cruz has started setting up managed homeless camps. PHOTO: TARMO HANNULA

The Santa Cruz County Civil Grand Jury, charged with holding public institutions accountable, has been releasing its investigations over the past several months. This year’s local Grand Jury has dug into issues surrounding fiscal management of the DeLaveaga Golf Course, data privacy, disaster preparedness, a lack of fire inspections and much more, as reported by GT

Now, the Grand Jury has also released findings about the lack of local leadership around homeless issues and revisited several issues from its 2016-17 reports. Read our summaries here:

Homelessness: Big Problem, Little Progress

The homelessness problem in Santa Cruz County, and the lack of a solution after years of efforts, is due in large part to an unwillingness by community members to allow shelters and other projects in their neighborhoods. These so-called NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) politics are fueled by a lack of political will by city and county leadership, the Grand Jury finds.

This report, titled “Homelessness: Big Problem, Little Progress,” also criticizes the biannual Point-in-Time report, which the Grand Jury says is inaccurate and results in inadequate allocation of state and federal resources.

Another problem, the report says, is a lack of coordination between homeless services providers. Additionally, the Homeless Action Partnership lacks the “authority, structure, leadership, staff, training or processes,” and is therefore “ineffective in its mission of reducing homelessness,” the report states.

The Grand Jury says the county has a dearth of treatment facilities, and that a lack of prevention and diversion programs means that many people who could stay in their homes with some cash assistance instead become homeless.

The county has land that could be used for housing, the report says, and urged civic leaders to identify possible sites that could be used for homeless services, as well as temporary or permanent shelters.

The report was also critical of Santa Cruz County law enforcement’s response to homeless, addiction, and mental health issues, which it says often criminalizes behavior that would be better addressed with mental health training.

Instead, the county should create a 24-hour mobile crisis response unit, which would include medical personnel and a crisis worker for calls that do not involve legal issues or threats of violence, according to the report.

The Grand Jury says county and city leaders should, by the end of the year, create a community task force that would collaborate in solving homeless issues.

Lastly, the report says the county should train the inmates at the Rountree medium-security jail facility to build small housing structures, such as tiny homes.

Honoring Commitments to the Public 

The Santa Cruz County Grand Jury investigates different aspects of local government and civic operations throughout the county every year, and its findings are typically detailed reports of positives and negatives found during the investigations.

But while those investigated are required to respond to the reports—and to publicly report the actions they take to implement the jury’s recommendations—they are not required by law to follow through on those actions.

For that reason, the Grand Jury this year took a look at a handful of investigations from 2016-17, to see whether any of the recommendations were implemented.

Specifically, the county revisited reports on school safety, how Pajaro Valley Unified School District is utilizing Measure L funding, the county’s syringe services program and the county’s public bus system.

“The commitments made in 2017 have now had sufficient time to bear fruit,” the report states. “Thus, we report them now.”

The jury found that, in general, the organizations “fulfilled the commitments they made to the public.”

Syringe services

The Grand Jury took a look at its report on the county’s syringe services program, which is largely headed up by the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency (HSA) and overseen by the Board of Supervisors.

The HSA has created  a seven-member advisory commission, although it is not clear whether that includes a recovered intravenous drug user, as per the jury’s recommendation. 

Following the Grand Jury’s recommendation, the HSA has allocated funds for a permanent budget for the SSP, and has bolstered its outreach efforts to drug users. In addition, the department is working on a way for community members to report syringe litter.

The HSA did not follow the recommendation to install needle disposal kiosks in public bathrooms, because, the agency explained, many were vandalized. But the county has expanded the number of public disposal kiosks.

The HSA is also coordinating increased numbers of syringe and needle cleanup efforts, particularly around the Emeline neighborhood.

School safety 

The Grand Jury looked at the readiness of the county’s 10 public school districts to respond to targeted school violence, and determined that its nine recommendations were followed. It also found that the Santa Cruz County Office of Education and the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office have made “excellent and continued efforts to ensure safety in our schools.”

PVUSD Measure L

Pajaro Valley Unified School District approved Measure L in 2012, a $150 million bond created to fund a laundry list of construction projects, upgrades and repairs throughout the vast district.

The 2016-17 report looked at whether the Measure L Citizens Oversight Committee (COC)–which makes sure the money is being spent as intended–was doing its job. The latest report found that the committee has largely kept its commitment to the public.

Elections Department

The county’s election department was commended for its efforts in implementing new voting systems and keeping voter information safe.

Santa Cruz Metro

The Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District received praise for launching a bus sponsorship program that would underwrite construction of bus stops. The district has said the program will begin this year.

The jury also commended the agency for improving cleanliness and maintenance efforts at transit facilities and for “ongoing efforts to improve and modernize service delivery.”

For more information on the Santa Cruz County Grand Jury, including how to apply, visit co.santa-cruz.ca.us/Departments/GrandJury.aspx. The deadline to apply and serve on this upcoming year’s Grand Jury has been extended through Aug. 14.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Kathy Cheer

    July 23, 2020 at 12:52 pm

    The Grand Jury says county and city leaders should, by the end of the year, create a community task force that would collaborate in solving homeless issues. Create a community task force well, la di da, why didn’t we think of that before…what a grrrrreat idea? Where can I sign up? I wonder by checking the “Sentinel” archives, I wonder just how many similar task forces were formed, dedicated to find a solution to the County’s homeless…to build shelters, what a concept. but let’s first find some land, FIND SOME LAND. No on with land want to cough it up even if it standing, has been standing for decades. So first, who’s to be chairperson?

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