WATSONVILLE—Since 1983, Pajaro Valley Shelter Services (PVSS) has aimed to address the needs of women and children affected by homelessness in the greater Watsonville area. Founded by Sister Susan Olson and Sister Marie Veronica through Catholic Charities, the organization eventually broke off and became its own independent nonprofit.
During the pandemic, PVSS has seen need grow exponentially in the Pajaro Valley. Current executive director Mike Johnson says that in March 2020 alone, about 57% of their clients lost their jobs. This has had major health and socioeconomic consequences for many of them, he said.
“When you think of industries like hospitality, food service, retail—all of our folks were working those kinds of jobs,” Johnson said. “Suddenly they were without work, without the ability to pay rent or for basic needs.”
A year later, job loss and subsequent homelessness continues to grow despite vaccine distributions and improving conditions. And Johnson says they expect that it will continue to increase for a while.
“Spikes in homelessness tend to follow economic crises like this by about a year,” he explained. “People lose their jobs, they lose their homes, their stability… gradually they’ll run out of resources. We’re seeing a lot of that already—all you need to do is drive around and see all those tents set up along the roads.”
In response to the growing need, PVSS has been focusing on specific areas and services. They launched a Covid-19 Family Relief Fund, adopting a Rent Deferment Policy and Basic Needs Assistance Policy, aiming to provide emergency relief and help families continue on their progress to self-sufficiency.
“The long term problem is, once things improve, how do we transition families to a new normal? A lot of jobs will not come back, or at least not at the level they were,” Johnson said. “Our vision is to find long-term housing sustainability, and offer programs that help people transition away from Covid-vulnerable employment.”
Job training is another major focus for PVSS right now, as well as improving financial literacy and education. About 60% of PVSS’ adults are enrolled in the organization’s new training program which launched in September. Of that, 48% of them leave the program with job training and 73% with professional development training.
“We’re starting to see some really good progress there, which makes us hopeful,” Johnson said.
Fundraising is also crucial, Johnson said. PVSS has seen great support from the community during the pandemic, from individual donors to large organizations such as the Community Foundation Santa Cruz County. In last year’s Santa Cruz Gives campaign they raised more than $12,800.
Its biggest fundraiser of the year is the annual Mother’s Day Run & Walk. The event, which has been held since the organization’s inception, usually attracts hundreds of participants. But with Covid-19 still prohibiting large gatherings, for the second year in a row, the event will be held virtually.
Runners and walkers are invited to register online and participate in the 1k, 5k or 10k races at any time or place on May 9. A registration fee is required, and event T-shirts are available to order in tandem. For those who cannot or chose not to participate, direct donations are being accepted online and by mail.
“It was a little painful last year. It was the first time in 36 years we didn’t hold a live event,” Johnson said. “We always looked forward to it. But we’re just doing what we have to do, like everyone else. When May rolls around things might be in better shape… but we’re not out of the woods yet. We want to be safe and make sure people are protected.”
PVSS is aiming to raise $80,000 during this year’s race. The funds will help support its many programs and also help with additional pandemic expenses such as personal protective equipment, IT solutions, cameras and additional spaces to meet safely in person. Johnson said that every single donation helps.
“Our mission as an organization is to get people back on their feet again, and to meet that need with increased capacity,” he said. “So that when our community needs us again, we’ll be ready for it.”
For information on PVSS and to register for the upcoming Mother’s Day Run & Walk visit pvshelter.org.