Santa Cruz County: “Santa Cruz panel highlights ‘women and homelessness’ in series,” Santa Cruz Sentinel

October 11, 2019

By Jessica A. York

Of the more than 2,000 people estimated as homeless countywide this year, more than a third are women — making them among the largest subpopulations locally, according to county statistics.

In the first in the Women & Homelessness Speakers’ Series hosted by the Santa Cruz County Women’s Commission, county Homeless Coordinator Rayne Pérez said Thursday that the area’s homeless women are facing different challenges than their male counterparts.

“We have a lot more shelter resources now than we used to have,” Pérez said. “We still do not have a women’s-only shelter, but do we have shelter services that include services for women.”

Evyn Simpson, assistant director of operations at Housing Matters — formerly Homeless Services Center — described her difficulties in drawing women to the organization’s emergency shelter beds early in her employment.

“I found that I could not fill the women’s beds, even though there were just 10. I couldn’t keep them full, I couldn’t get a hold of them. It was far easier to keep the men’s dorm full,” Simpson said. “So that means that precious shelter beds were going unused.”

In an effort to improve the dynamic and negative interpersonal relations that Simpson said she witnessed, she formed a weekly women’s discussion group.

“Here, we laughed, we cried, we ask the tough questions and we foster relationships,” Simpson said.

According to Pérez, homeless women-specific challenges can include accessing menstrual products, maternal services, childcare/custody, safety from sexual assault/violence, mental illness treatment, equal wages to men and protection from abusers.

Asked by an audience member what community members could do to alleviate women’s homelessness issues, Simpson and Pérez suggested acts as simple as offering women a purse filled with feminine products, buying a coffee and talking to them, renting granny flats to Section 8 subsidized housing vouchers and humanizing those experiencing homelessness in discussions with others.

Pérez said she is working with county-hired consultant Focus Strategies to better unite and streamline general homelessness programming countywide. Now, the level of assistance a person receives varies based on which shelter or program with which they engage. Listing numerous underway state- and federally- funded programs addressing county homelessness generally, Pérez said work remains beyond creating a women-only shelter. She said service providers need to shift to focusing more on women’s barriers to existing services, and that all need to be trained in trauma-informed care, meaning past traumas are taken into consideration during interactions. The public, often demanding homelessness solutions from government agencies, also will need to support those solutions when provided, she said. Pérez cited higher-wage employment and affordable housing as particular needs to address local homelessness.

“If we stay in reactive crisis mode, we’ll never get better. We have got to step back and look at the bigger picture and be strategic, and that’s the work that I’m trying to do,” Pérez said.

The next Women & Homelessness Speaker Series is scheduled for 7 p.m. Nov. 21 at the Watsonville County Building, Room 104, 18 W. Beach St. Information: sccwc.org.

For the full story, visit https://www.santacruzsentinel.com/2019/10/11/santa-cruz-panel-highlights-women-and-homelessness-in-series/