A woman who had been homeless in Santa Cruz for more than eight years died recently. She was 60 and had serious health issues. She recently started participating in a transitional housing program, which means she passed away in a warm bed with a roof over her head.
The woman had recently received a Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher and had started to look for housing. The voucher program is the federal government’s major program for assisting very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to afford housing in the private market. She had a new type of voucher that the Housing Authority of Santa Cruz County created in partnership with the 180/180 initiative. It is designed to increase access for disabled and medically vulnerable homeless individuals who are already on the Section 8 waiting list.
Sadly, two people have died with this new 180/180-linked voucher in hand before we could help them get housed, which demonstrates the appropriateness and urgent need for this new voucher.
When we launched the multi-agency 180/180 initiative two years ago we set a goal of helping 180 people who are chronically homeless make a 180-degree change in their lives by helping them access housing and supportive services. We also wanted to see if the initiative could reduce the number of people who die homeless in Santa Cruz County. Last year 37 people died while unsheltered in Santa Cruz County, at an average age of 53.
So far, 180/180 partner organizations have helped house 158 individuals and families. We are on pace to reach the 180 goal by July. However, the need is much greater than 180.
Numerous studies have shown that permanent supportive housing saves lives and money when compared with expensive emergency services such as hospitalization, incarceration, police intervention, shelters and related services. And later this year we’ll have our own study. UCSC is conducting an independent study to evaluate the outcomes and cost-effectiveness of the 180/180 initiative.
The more we recognize homelessness as a health crisis, and supportive housing as a health care intervention, the closer we get to better health, better care, and lower costs for the community. At the same time, we should hopefully see a reduction in the number of deaths of our most vulnerable unsheltered neighbors.
Phil Kramer is director of the 180/180 initiative.