WATSONVILLE—David Schartow was a retired ironworker living in Paradise with his young daughter when the 2018 Camp Fire destroyed the entire town, including his home.
Now homeless, Schartow, 64, has since bounced through several temporary shelters, including his current accommodations, the Comfort Inn in Watsonville. That hotel is part of Project Roomkey, a statewide program designed to get senior and medically vulnerable people off the streets and safe from Covid-19.
But with funding for that program expiring at the end of the year, and the Comfort Inn closing at the end of October, some 200 people will soon need to find other places to live.
Schartow is among roughly 20 residents remaining in the hotel as county officials look to find alternative shelter for them. All have been handed eviction notices and must be out by the end of October, he says.
A caseworker recently gave him another three-week stay at another hotel, but he says that merely delays the inevitable. The caseworker has also suggested putting him in a skilled nursing facility, an option he said would mean he couldn’t live with his daughter, now 15.
While most of his fellow residents have been placed, Schartow says his medical problems—he is legally blind and relies on a wheelchair to get around—has made it difficult to find a place that can accommodate him.
His worst-case scenario, he says, is packing a backpack and a tent.
“I know they’re going to throw me out, and when they do, I’ll just wheel myself down to that creek,” he said, pointing down Airport Boulevard. “If they haven’t found something in three months, they won’t find it in three weeks.”
Santa Cruz County spokesman Jason Hoppin says the county, which administers Project Roomkey through the state, provides a caseworker for every resident who works to find shelter for them. The program also housed people who were displaced by the CZU Lightning Complex fires.
“Our preferred option is to find everyone an affordable, permanent home,” he said. “But our teams will continue working with people toward that goal, even if something is not immediately available at the time of closure.”
The problem, Hoppin says, is not the funding, but the tight housing market that affects everyone who is looking for a place to live, with as many as three dozen people for every available spot.
“There’s so much competition for every space that it’s hard to locate people,” he said.
Hoppin says that residents are being offered spaces in other hotels, and in emergency shelters.
The county has closed Watsonville Veterans Hall and Santa Cruz Veterans Memorial Building, both of which were housing people experiencing homelessness, as well as the shelter for transition-age youth at Cabrillo College.
Also closed is the shelter at Delaveaga Park, and two hotels in Santa Cruz. One other hotel is still operating in Watsonville.
“We’ve successfully moved probably a couple hundred people out of those closed shelters into other accommodations,” Hoppin said.
Hoppin says some have opted to live on the street over what the county has to offer.
Allen Schlumbrecht, 47, says he has previously stayed at the Stag Hotel in Watsonville and at the Brookdale Lodge in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
“I’ve sent messages to the chief of police in Watsonville and to [Congressman Jimmy] Panetta,” the former house painter said. “And I’ve not heard back from anyone about what we’re supposed to do. We have to be out of here by 5 o’clock on Friday; I don’t know what’s next.”
Terry Murphy, 67, says he’s been housed at the Comfort Inn for two years. Born in Watsonville, Murphy, a former union carpenter and Watsonville High School graduate (class of 1973), said county officials have lined up an apartment for him in Watsonville. Murphy, who suffers from several medical maladies, says the space will be a welcome relief.
“I’m really looking forward to this,” he said. “I’m supposed to get the key today … I worked hard for a lot of years, and this is where I end up.”
Housing Matters CEO Phil Kramer says that the availability of housing is coupled with the difficulty of finding landlords willing to accept vouchers, when any open apartment can have dozens of hopeful tenants, many of whom are not homeless and have the means to pay their rent in cash. There is no housing specifically set aside for people in programs such as Roomkey, he adds.
In addition, people with housing vouchers often require supportive care, Kramer says.
“It’s all that coming together, which has been a long-term reality and challenge in getting folks housed in this market,” he said.
He added: “We’re moving as quickly as we can with our permanent supportive housing project.”
Housing matters recently surpassed its $8 million fundraising goal to raise $9.3 million, which will be used to build 120 studio apartments for medically vulnerable and chronically homeless people, with supportive care on-site.
The project has gained approval from the Santa Cruz Planning Department, and Kramer says construction could begin early next year.
Homeless advocates are hopeful that Project Homekey, a $1.4 billion state-run program that helps local jurisdictions find long-term housing solutions for homeless people, will solve some of these issues.
Very sad situation all around. May everyone find a place to call home.
Ummm hello! biden administration I think we are at capacity in the USA and shouldn’t let anymore in till we have homes for all the homeless in this beautiful country we get to call home.
Maybe that $400,000+ fence around his home that DHS (taxpayers) paid for would have been better suited for the many people facing homelessness across the states. But hey what do I know I’m not a politician 🤷🏽♀️
we are not at maximum capacity in the USA. our nation was built because of immigrants. the lack of housing is due to builders not getting enough profit they demand to build. the complaint that we shouldnt let any more in has been a complaint from xenophobic nativists for many decades.
we need to get the housing built. we need to make current empty housing available to use for the homeless.
Please read this and get back to me on the subject of “xenophobic nativists”.
many of those homeless were born in the USA. they became homeless because they could no longer afford rents. checked our rental costs in watsonville, pickles ?
check them out and get back to me.
There’s a difference between legal and illegal immigrants. Legal immigrants have to show up at the port of entry- be vaccinated- and have a medical screening, also somebody has to sponsor them meaning they won’t end up on the streets. Illegal immigrants just throw Themselves at the border asking for asylum. Get a life Steve!
What do we do now? The problem is very visible when walking around town. The homeless, both sheltered and unsheltered, are seen living in green areas and parking areas. Well and good. But if local authorities are going to allow this, please fulfill your responsibilities for the health and well being of all by providing porta-potties and trash bins. All that stuff tends to end up scattered if it’s not collected in designated spots.
One possible solution:
Use the Western Marine building recently purchased by the county to house the homeless. Better than looking for old hotels/motels. Plenty of room for those with RVs too. Maybe even room for an office for county’s new Housing for Health Division.
It’s absolutely getting worse. Today I went shopping at Safeway and there was panhandlers on two exits there. It’s extremely disheartening to see this happening in a town I love dearly.
Also used needles in the parking lot of foodmaxx shopping center the other day while I had my young children with me.
Condoms on the playground in pajaro where I love to take my boys but not anymore after seeing that unfortunately.
Hey I called it.. house then homeless at West Marine!!
Sad story Mr Schartow- I’m truly sorry. But how did you end up in Watsonville? What brings you to this expensive farm town of Watsonville? Home (paradise) is about 300+ miles away…Chico or Sac or anywhere closer to home wasn’t good enough for you!
Good call. There are vacant houses in Oildale and Barstow where the old bird could live with his 15 year old (poor kid).
How many rental houses don’t rent to individuals anymore, but instead rent as an Airbnb where landlords can make a ton more money. Time to change the rental rules. Or build rentals that actually have decent rent. New rentals on Main St. owned by Hansen, charge a ton of money and most likely got financial assistance from the city. Stop giving assistance to rich landlords when they charge sky high rents. The old Ford’s building should have been converted to rentals instead of moving charter school. City of Watsonville doesn’t have inovative leadership at all. Fort Ord should have been converted to low cost rentals. Instead the realtors got expensive housing built. Too much greed.
Why is the Comfort Inn closing?