These issues are complex and driven by decades of under-investment by the State and Federal governments. We've made some progress at the local level, but there is still much to be done. It has been my top priority to convene experts, law enforcement, judges, City and County elected officials to implement policies and programs to address these issues.
There are no secret pots of money to fix these problems, nor, after talking to mayors around the country, are there any easy policy solutions. Here are some of the efforts I've spearheaded:
I'm a strong supporter of programs focusing on the individuals having the greatest negative impact in our community in terms of illegal behavior and repeated offenses. The two most successful are the MOST (Maintaining Ongoing Stability through Treatment) program and the PACT (now HOPES) program started by the late District Attorney Bob Lee. These programs have seen remarkable results (a 70% reduction in new crimes and an 80% reduction in ambulance rides for the targeted population). Daily cooperation between the Courts, the Sheriff, the District Attorney, the Public Defender, the City Police Department, Mayor and the County is essential.More accountability doesn't work without offering treatment. Last year, Santa Cruz County became one of six counties in the state to significantly expand access to substance abuse treatment for people who need it. Instead of waiting for people to reach a crisis point, we can offer treatment earlier. It is expensive and complex to expand treatment options in a county of our size, but we are working hard to provide this necessary resource.
I'm also working on increasing affordable housing and getting people the food and preventative medical care in order to improve lives, save taxpayer dollars, reduce crowding in emergency rooms, and increase the health of our community through the Whole Person Care and other initiatives. In addition to assisting those in desperate need, these efforts help working families and individuals avoid homelessness.
Santa Cruz is a small community. We alone cannot solve a national problem. When I was on the City Council, I initiated a Homeward Bound program which provides a bus ticket for individuals to return to their home community where they have support networks. The City spends $35,000 per year on this program and this year I've proposed that the County match it going forward. In addition, I've advocated that within the limits of federal law, we prioritize local people for services and that these services be evenly spread throughout the County and not concentrated in the City of Santa Cruz.
When systems fail, I ask that the City and County staff review what went wrong and what can be improved. This has resulted in operational improvements. We also recently implemented a coordinated entry system, so that we can deliver services to those in need, track outcomes, and not duplicate efforts.
The City Council unanimously adopted a Homeless Action Plan last year after more than a year of research by then Mayor Chase and Councilmembers Comstock and Noroyan. This plan lays out the City's strategy to meet the challenges related to the unhoused. At Mayor Terrazas' and my urging, the City and County staff meet regularly to implement the plan. We are on or ahead of schedule for every strategy.These collaborations are changing lives and should be expanded. However, in California, almost all mental health and substance abuse treatments are voluntary. Many of the most impactful people routinely refuse services, leaving us with few options for how to get them help and off our streets. The County, the City, and law enforcement cannot force individuals into treatment or housing if individuals refuse. This (in combination with increased poverty and the opioid epidemic) has resulted in nearly every City in California grappling with encampments and illegal activity. To address this, I'm advocating that the state carefully reform some of these rules, so that we can get people the treatment they need and reduce impacts on our community.
My family and I love Santa Cruz. We love the community, our beautiful surroundings, and its people. I know you love this community too. I pledge to work with you, to listen to your concerns, and effectively address these challenges, so that Santa Cruz can be a place where we all feel safe.