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January 17, 2021

New health office boosts county homeless mission

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY—Thanks to $10 million in federal and state grants, Santa Cruz County has launched a new Housing for Health office, County Administrative Officer Carlos Palacios announced at a press conference Nov. 19.

Robert Ratner, who brings in 14 years of experience from Alameda in public health and medicine, will lead the office.

“It was my vision and my dream, from the very beginning that we needed to have a division specifically geared toward coordinating all our efforts, countywide—not only within the county—but within our neighboring jurisdictions as well, in addressing this issue,” Palacios said.

Palacios described the issue as both a “national crisis and local crisis” and that more than half of unhoused people in the U.S. live in California. The fundamental issue, he said “is affordable housing.”

The office will operate under the same roof as the Human Services Department and will stick to a three-year “roadmap,” known as “Housing for a Healthy Santa Cruz” set to take form at the start of 2021.

Elissa Benson, assistant county administrative officer, said that around $4.12 million of the money will go to “getting people housed.” She outlined how some of the money will target “rapid rehousing,” short-term rental assistance, outreach work for getting people into shelters, landlord engagement and community involvement.

The grant money stems from an Emergency Solutions Grant that was set up to deal with coronavirus response for homeless people.

Palacios described dealing with homelessness as one of the most important issues facing Americans, based on national and local polls.

“We all know that this is a tragedy for society,” he said.

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