The air that filled the room of the Live Oak/ Simpkins Swim Center was light, friendly and happy on the afternoon of October 3, 2013. As the community arrived and began to take their seats, they were directed to also grab a box lunch provided by Erik’s DeliCafe Catering. The differing smells of sandwiches, pasta and coffee rose from each table and nicely intermingled with one another, creating a new, complimenting and homely aroma. CEO of the Central California Alliance for Health, Alan McKay, was the first to stand and formerly welcome the crowd. He opened in referencing a quote from New York writer Malcolm Gladwell, “Is it easier to solve homelessness than it is to manage homelessness?” McKay asked. To both Gladwell and the project leaders of the 180/180 initiative, the answer to this question is ‘yes.’ The spotlight was then directed to Project Director, Phil Kramer, who discussed in celebration the successful process of reaching 90 of 180 housed homeless of Santa Cruz.
According to their pamphlet, “180/180 is a community effort in Santa Cruz County to help 180 homeless individuals and families turn their lives around. We’re part of the national 100,000 Homes Campaign and have a goal to house 180 of our most vulnerable, long-term, chronically homeless men, women and families by July 2014. We will do this by moving them into permanent housing with the support services they need to stay housed.” The luncheon was an update on how far the project has come. Now, at their halfway mark, the 180/180 initiative has housed a total of 90 homeless people since it’s launch. John Dietz, a project leader, was presented with what the leaders called a “Hero Award” for his participation. Before he accepted, he credited the success of the campaign to the volunteers involved. “There is something unique about this, this is the only all volunteer housing working group,” Dietz said. He then went on to explain that all of the funding for the housing is provided by donations. “It hasn’t been easy!” he told me in a short conversation upon my arrival. Among the 90 individuals and families that have been housed, 26 of them were veterans. The candidates are chosen by the profile of the most ‘at risk’ homeless that have at least one condition that spikes their risk of death.
As director of the 100,000 Homes campaign, a project that has reduced street homelessness by 87% in Times Square over 4 years, Becky Kanis was a guest speaker at the luncheon to those both involved and supporting the initiative. She congratulated the team for their accomplishments and motivated them to do even better. An interesting question she proposed was, “Forget the numbers. Forget the 90 forget the 180. What are you really about? What are your values underneath the numbers?” Kanis explained that with the right values, the team could reach any goal they set. The bar is high for the 180/180 team but if they continue with their average of 13 placements per month, they will exceed their remaining 90 by July of 2014.
The potential of this project has become truly evident as the leaders, volunteers and everyone in between work tirelessly to get things done. The team has already improved their Santa Cruz housing statistics of the homeless by 550%. Numbers like this exemplify the incredible amount a group effort of people who care can accomplish. We wish the very best of luck to the 180/180 Committee on their next year of creating a better, more stable life for those who qualify as most in need of the team’s life saving assistance.