Housing Matters

Launches Building with Purpose

It’s one of the most challenging issues facing our communities. Yet the solution is actually quite simple.

You solve homelessness, says Housing Matters CEO Phil Kramer, by providing housing.

And that’s literally what the nonprofit organization is preparing to do: Build 120 units of permanent supportive housing for people experiencing chronic homelessness, the largest permanent supportive housing project ever undertaken in Santa Cruz County.

Housing Matters has launched Building With Purpose, a capital campaign to raise $8 million in community funding support for the five-story residential complex, which will be located on the Housing Matters campus at 115 Coral St., Santa Cruz.

The Harvey West Studios will transform the site where seven small homes currently stand into modest studio apartments, each about 300 square feet, ensuring not just a roof overhead for some of the area’s most vulnerable residents but also access to on-site resources to help individuals thrive and retain that housing long-term.

“So far, thanks to the generosity of our community, we’ve raised $6.6 million, leaving just $1.4 million to go, which is a testament to the generosity and caring evident in our community,” says Kramer. 

The project is also supported by generous philanthropists, a bank loan, and public and private grants, including a $2.5 million gift from Central California Alliance for Health

The project’s overall budget is estimated at between $25 million and $28 million, and to minimize both costs and the building’s environmental impact, the project will incorporate high-quality modular construction and passive design with low environmental impact. The restorative environment will incorporate gathering areas, landscaped spaces, and a rooftop deck to foster intentional community and staff interaction.

Harvey West Studios is a project six years in the making, and it builds upon the long track record Housing Matters has in partnering with individuals and families to create pathways out of their homelessness and into permanent housing. Among the project’s supporters is MBEP co-founder and Board Member Bud Colligan. 

The goal is tantalizingly within reach: The project received unanimous Planning Commission approval in November 2020, with construction set to begin in 2022 and occupancy to happen in 2023.

Housing Matters, which began as a loosely affiliated group of faith-based and secular organizations, was one of the first agencies in the county to realign its programs with the best practices of the Housing First model. The organization runs four emergency and transitional housing shelters for nearly 230 people, a medical clinic, and a 12-bed medical respite care facility.

In the last two years, more than 550 people have found permanent housing with support from Housing Matters.
Creating greater awareness about the realities and the root causes of homelessness, and dispelling some of the misconceptions, are vital to the mission of Housing Matters.

The cost of housing in one of the most expensive housing markets in the nation is definitely a factor contributing to homelessness, says Kramer, and the need for more affordable housing for very low-income individuals is urgent. But homelessness and its causes are by no means unique to Santa Cruz County.

“What we find when we look at the research is that we are more alike than different from other communities, and that creates an opportunity for us to look at the issue regionally and broadly, understanding that a county line is a demarcation line but it doesn’t mean that the crisis or the need to find solutions stops at any county border. We need regional solutions and we also have to work collaboratively.”

Job loss is the No. 1 reason people become homeless, said Kramer, and according to the Point-in-Time Count, the biennial Census count measuring the prevalence of homelessness in communities, 74 percent of those experiencing homelessness in Santa Cruz County were local residents at the time they became homeless. https://housingmatterssc.org/2019-santa-cruz-county-homeless-census-and-point-in-time-count/ 

“One of the most common misperceptions around homelessness is that the people experiencing homelessness are not from here, that they come from somewhere else. The reality is that these are our neighbors, these are people who lived in the community for a long time,” said Kramer. 

And for those individuals experiencing chronic homelessness and disabling conditions, stability relies heavily on access to daily supportive services such as medical care and ongoing case management. Those are the ones that slip through the cracks, says Kramer. 

“We’re trying to change the conversation in our communities,” says Kramer. “The solution is more than the key to the door.”

When complete, Harvey West Studios will be the single largest permanent supportive housing project ever built in Santa Cruz County. But 120 units is a drop in the bucket in a sea of need in the county, and homelessness is an issue without regard to borders.

“There’s certainly a lot to celebrate there: For 120 people, we will end their experience of being homeless,” said Kramer. “I don’t want to miss an opportunity to celebrate that, but we need more. We’re hoping that this project will be a model for the community to build other projects across the county and across the region.”

Learn more about Building With Purpose, register for a webinar, or make a donation here.