SANTA CRUZ COUNTY, Calif. (KION) Santa Cruz County and partners cities announced that they created a task force to oversee homeless services during the coronavirus pandemic.
The county said the task force will focus on isolating sick and vulnerable people and helping existing services affected by the pandemic in an effort to reduce the spread of the virus.
The task force will be made up of staff from Santa Cruz county, the cities of Santa Cruz and Watsonville and experts from community-based organizations led by the Santa Cruz County Department of Human Services. The county said they will help find places to shelter sick and well homeless people and offer services needed to support the operation of the facilities.
“We now have more than a dozen staff working together to address this very important community need,” said Elissa Benson, Assistant County Administrative Officer for Santa Cruz County. “Care for people experiencing homelessness is a vital element of our overall plan to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the Santa Cruz County community.”
The county said the Human Services Departmental Operations Center already reached a lease agreement on a private hotel facility and will be ready to come up with more lease agreements as needed.
The county said that for medical reasons, it will not be giving hotel vouchers to patients with symptoms for hotels available to the public. The private hotel will be used to house homeless coronavirus patients, homeless people with significant coronavirus exposure who need to be quarantined and homeless people who are medically vulnerable or elderly.
Housing is one part of the task force's four-pillar plan along with expanding sheltering capacity, expanding hygiene infrastructure and directly reaching out to homeless people.
The county and the cities of Santa Cruz and Watsonville said they are getting close to finishing a plan to expand shelter capacity overall to replace capacity cut down by the Shelter in Place order. The order limits the number of beds in existing shelters because of social distancing requirements. The county said it expects to announce the locations and operations of the sites in the next few days.
The county said the task force has requested 5,600 ready-to-eat meals from the state to distribute to the homeless. The City of Santa Cruz has also hired a Homelessness Manager and coordinated temporary food distribution with schools to provide 75 meals a day to the homeless.
City of Santa Cruz staff are expected to begin giving out bagged meals to the homeless this week, and said they will be distributed across services and into encampments to make sure those who usually gather to get food can practice social distancing.