Thursday, July 17, 2014

Who are the homeless...

You might have an idea about who our local homeless people are. Maybe your ideas are based on the people you see panhandling in Downtown or how you see the homeless portrayed by articles in the Sentinel. That picture does not fit the people that GiGi and I have met on our journey.

We have met small business owners who live in sheds or in their stores in order to help make their small business thrive. We met a young working couple with low wage jobs and two dogs that can only afford to live in a campground. Our camping buddy had the financial means to rent but was homeless for seven weeks until he could find a place to rent with two kids and a dog. It took him almost 4 months to find a place!

Homeless... becoming more popular every year!

Using the limited definition of the federal government (an individual who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence), the Santa Cruz County Homeless Census counted local homeless. In the two years from 2009 to 2011, the homeless population rose 22%. This number does not include GiGi and I or most of the people we have met.

Do I fit the profile?

I am a short, fat, middle-aged, woman who is college educated... my bachelor's degree is 30 years old, so it is kind of meaningless. My parents lied about my age so I could get my first job at 12 years old. Since then, I've worked for major corporations around the Bay Area, but been self-employed for the last few years. Santa Cruz has been my home since the storms of 1982 forced me to move from Big Sur. Almost three years ago, we became homeless due to a series of actions by other people that turned our world upside down... took our home of five years and destroyed  my business. We are starting over from scratch.

I don't drink (except an occasional margarita), don't smoke cigarettes, don't do any kind of drugs. I have no history of mental illness, not a transient, not disabled, and not a veteran. Single, not married. Parents are dead and I'm not really close with my two much older siblings.


How much do YOU spend on food per month? Currently, I receive $189 a month in food stamps. That lasts me about half the month, with careful planning. Fortunately, local churches help feed us the rest of the month. They even have pet food.

At one point, I received welfare (General Assistance). They LOAN me $293 a month for rent (which I am required to pay back at some point), plus $50 for incidentals. Where in Santa Cruz can you rent a place for $300 a month? And how do I come up with the deposit?

My very Republican brother thinks I have somehow screwed this up because EVERYBODY else is making HUGE dollars off the welfare system. I laugh when people tell me that the reason there are so many homeless people in Santa Cruz is due to how much they can get here. They say the homeless are coddled here, pampered. I don't feel the welfare system is offering an abundance of riches.

Unemployment and cost of living here in paradise

The employment rate in Santa Cruz was 12.5% in January 2013, while nationally it was 8.5%.

A full-time worker must earn $33.27 per hour to afford a modest two-bedroom rental, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

According to the 2011 homeless census here, there were 2,771 homeless and the county received $1.7 million in homeless assistance grant money. That is $613 per person for the YEAR. How do you help someone with $600?

So, if you have suggestions about how to help people get jobs and housing, I would love to hear them.