Over the past year, the County has made significant investments in South Santa Cruz County. From the purchase of a new South County Service Center so residents of South County can have access to County services in a way never previously afforded, to setting aside funding for the potential purchase of land for the creation of a new County park, which would ensure future generations have equal access to recreational opportunities, to securing over $180 million from the state for the Pajaro River flood control project, to the expansion of mobile behavioral health programs and services in South County.
But challenges remain. Two issues where our offices receive a lot of inquiries surround the need for improved housing options for unsheltered residents in South County and the increase of trash and needle waste along the Pajaro River and Corralitos and Salsipuedes creeks.
Recently, the Board of Supervisors approved a contract with the Community Action Board of Santa Cruz County to support the expansion of the Watsonville Works program in the greater Watsonville area. The program helps those experiencing homelessness with job readiness and work experience services coupled with housing assistance. The program also includes trash and needle waste clean-up services as a job training function. Watsonville Works has focused on engaging with unsheltered individuals in the downtown Watsonville, Pajaro River and Slough areas to remove barriers to employment and housing, learn work skills and ultimately exit homelessness to permanent housing.
Watsonville Works has been successful in both efforts and this expansion in funding can only help. In the last year, the program engaged 53 participants for work experience and referrals to other support services and, of those engaged, 26% received housing assistance, and of those housed, 86% became employed after services ended. Additionally, Watsonville Works participants removed a total of 1,950 bags of trash and 2,158 hypodermic needles were safely removed from designated Watsonville areas in the last year.
As part of this expanded partnership, the County will be hosting a community clean-up of a problematic section of Corralitos Creek. Please join with Watsonville Works and the City of Watsonville, County staff and community volunteers for the neighborhood creek clean-up on Dec. 17 between 12:30-2pm. We would love to have you participate. We will be meeting at the empty lot across from Safeway and entering the creek area near Airport Boulevard and Pajaro Lane. The plan is to clean along Corralitos Creek from Airport Boulevard to Green Valley Road.
We believe that when we work together as the County, City, community-based organizations, businesses and community members we can make the greatest difference in dealing with the challenging issues that face South County. As always, if you have any County needs please do not hesitate to contact either of our offices at 831-454-2200.
Zach Friend and Greg Caput are Santa Cruz County Supervisors. Their views are their own and not necessarily those of the Pajaronian.