SANTA CRUZ, Calif. - Santa Cruz County agencies gathered to discuss findings and solutions to a growing problem they said needs immediate attention.
"Who are the people affected by homelessness, what are the causes, and what would be the solutions to end their homelessness," said Julie Conway, Santa Cruz County Housing Manager.
According to a recent Point-In-Time Count, homelessness among adults and youth has increased nearly 15 percent in the last two years. Sixty-eight percent of them were already living in Santa Cruz before becoming homeless.
"We often know that people who are homeless often have co-occurring mental health and substance use disorder problems,” said Rayne Marr, Homeless Services Coordinator for County of Santa Cruz.
Also contributing to homelessness in Santa Cruz County: physical disabilities and lack of affordable housing.
"Zoning and land use requirements are a huge part of the reason why we can't build out everywhere we might want to build,” said Marr. “There are funding limitations and then there's a huge culture of not in my backyard. People want the housing but they don't want it in their neighborhood."
The Point-In-Time Count reveals that 69 percent of those surveyed were unemployed. Nearly 75 percent of them were male and 62 percent were 25 years and older. Homelessness among minors and young people making the transition to adulthood are also on the rise.
"A youth at the age of 18 should not be homeless," said Chad Platt.
Platt said he was once a homeless youth. He said young people ending up on the streets stems from problems within the foster care system and lack of affordable housing.
"I was working at TOGO's full time and I was doing antiques on the side,” said Platt. “My take home was less than $1,200 a month and that was the price of a one bedroom and a studio."
Veteran Brad Mills said his homelessness is also from addiction and lack of housing. Mills said he is clean now and is moving into a new home this Tuesday.
"I give a lot of my credit to God because to me I'm a loser, broken,” said Mills. “Somehow I have been taken care of."
Santa Cruz County hopes to have many more success stories like Mills. They told KION programs are in place and on the way to provide emergency shelter, employment and vocational services, along with resources for people who are mentally ill or battling addiction.