Spending category definitions

  1. Rental assistance: Money for tenants to pay rent, including in permanent supportive housing developments for previously unhoused people. 
  2. Temporary shelters: Money spent on homeless camps and shelters sanctioned by local governments. This money includes hotel rooms for unhoused people. California’s Project Roomkey provided hotel rooms to unhoused people with COVID-19 or exposed to it, as well as unhoused people at “high risk” of health complications due to COVID-19. City staff time on cleanup of unsanctioned tent camps was not included in this chart because staff would have been paid regardless of their homelessness-related duties.
  3. Permanent housing development: Homelessness-related grants spent to help build affordable housing in Santa Cruz County. This category includes state grants that came through the county’s Continuum of Care. It also includes flexible federal grant program money from the Community Development Block Grant Program and the HOME Investments Partnership Program that could be used on homelessness expenses. These figures do not represent all local government spending on permanent housing development.
  4. Communications: Money for public engagement and strategic communications related to homelessness, as well as website production for homelessness-related programs.  
  5. Administrative Costs/Grant Administration: Money spent by city, county or nonprofit leaders to administer homeless services grants. Many grant programs allow a percentage of money to be spent on administrative costs.
  6. Housing navigators and case management: Staff who help unhoused people secure housing and other services. 
  7. Coordinated entry: Money to connect unhoused people with services provided by government and nonprofit groups, including money for the county’s online Homeless Management Information System.
  8. Outreach: Money spent on the Downtown Outreach Team to connect unhoused people in Santa Cruz to services, as well as the the county’s HOPES program, or Homeless Outreach Proactive Engagement and Services, that includes health and mental health services, crisis services, outreach specialists, veteran providers and criminal justice personnel. The outreach category also includes the county’s MOST program, or Maintaining Ongoing Stability through Treatment which essentially provides mental health and job services in coordination with County Probation. 
  9. Homeless Persons Health Project: This county program facilitates behavioral health services and provides medical care, water and other supplies. 
  10. Office supplies: Some grant documents noted money spent on office supplies. The Santa Cruz County Human Services Department spent $358,000 on office supplies in fiscal year 2020-2021, Deputy County Administrative Officer Melodye Serino wrote in an email. The Human Services Department also awarded a $1.1 million contract that fiscal year to the Salvation Army for office supplies on an as needed basis, according to county documents.
  11. Youth programs: Money spent to support homeless youth, including rent assistance. For example, in fiscal year 2019-20, Encompass Community Services, a local health, housing and education nonprofit group spent about $74,000 of a $593,00 federal grant to build a drop-in resource center for homeless youth ages 18 to 24. The center opened this fall with laundry, shower and computer facilities and other support.
  12. Mental health: Money spent for homeless services specifically for unhoused people. This does not include other mental health services provided by the county or other providers for housed and unhoused people.
  13. Other public money to nonprofits: Local, state or federal money given to local nonprofits for homeless services not including temporary shelter, permanent housing development, rent assistance or youth programs. Examples include legal aid for homelessness prevention and the job programs Homeless Garden Project and the Downtown Streets Team.    
  14. Multiple or other categories: Spending that does not fit into the categories listed above or did not have enough detail to categorize. For example, a spending report from fiscal year 2019-2020 showed that the City of Santa Cruz spent $618,543 of federal money on Homeward Bound, outreach services, Downtown Streets Team, temporary shelter, the Homeless Action Partnership, emergency winter shelter and recommendations in a 2017 report. City staff could not separate spending for each cost. Another example of “other” spending is support services with permanent housing projects, such as connections to health care.

Money sources

The spending compiled in the charts came from several major programs and grant sources.

  • Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP) Grant Program: Created by a state bill in 2018, this was a one-time $500 million grant program administered by the state. The grants were awarded to large cities and California Continuums of Care to address homelessness. Santa Cruz County received more than $9.6 million.
  • California Emergency Solutions and Housing (CESH) Program: This is a 5-year grant awarded to local jurisdictions and Continuums of Care to help house people and keep them housed through a variety of programs such as rental assistance and homeless services. Santa Cruz County received a CESH grant in 2020.
  • Homeless Housing, Assistance and Prevention (HHAP) Grant Program: This is a $1.95 billion state program that grants money to local jurisdictions and Continuums of Care for homelessness response. The program was created by three state bills in 2019, 2020 and 2021. Most of this money is used in Santa Cruz County to support “housing-focused shelter/navigation center operations” across several years, Ratner wrote in an email to Santa Cruz Local.  
  • Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program: This is an annual federal grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to states, counties and cities. Some grant money has been spent on housing development, rental assistance and food distribution to low-income communities. Santa Cruz County, the City of Santa Cruz, the City of Watsonville, and the City of Capitola, and City of Scotts Valley have been recipients.
  • The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act: This federal act awarded $4 billion to local jurisdictions through Emergency Solutions Grants Program in 2020 to help mitigate and prevent homelessness due to impacts of policies surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. Santa Cruz County received $9,950,258. The county spent $360,751 in fiscal year 2020-21.
  • Collective of Results and Evidence Based (CORE) Investments is a joint grant program between the County of Santa Cruz and the City of Santa Cruz to fund local nonprofit and educational groups. In the fiscal years 2019-20 and 2020-21, the county and city contributed about $4.1 million and $1.1 million from their respective General Funds.
  • Project Roomkey was a California state program aimed at providing hotel rooms for homeless people considered high risk for medical complications from COVID-19. Since April 2020, the program paired more than 700 homeless residents with hotel rooms in Santa Cruz County. The program ended in June 2022.
  • California COVID-19 Rent Relief Program: This state program was the largest source of rent assistance for Santa Cruz County residents during the pandemic, but not until fiscal year 2021-2022. From March 15, 2021 to June 30, 2021, Santa Cruz County residents received a total $381,563 from the program. As of May 2, more than $28.5 million was paid to 2,409 Santa Cruz County households with average assistance of about $11,400, according to a state dashboard. Money started delivery March 15, 2021. Applications closed in March 2022.  Many leaders in Santa Cruz County criticized the program’s long wait times to review applications and deliver money. 


There are several limitations of the data in the charts:

  • All the figures noted are at least what was spent in each category, based on the grant documents, interviews and Santa Cruz Local research. The charts only include public money. Many homeless services are performed by nonprofit groups that have other sources of money, including private donors, foundations and corporate grants. The charts do not include all state and federal money that went directly to nonprofit groups.
  • County of Santa Cruz spending on mental health services is not included in these charts because the county does not separate mental health services for housed and unhoused residents. About $80.7 million was spent on behavioral health in the county in fiscal year 2019-2020 and $79.2 million was spent in fiscal year 2020-2021, according to county budgets.
  • Grant periods sometimes span more than one fiscal year or a portion of a fiscal year. Some spending estimates were made for each fiscal year based on the total amounts awarded and spent.
  • The cost of city staff on homeless related work such as camp cleanup and police response to homeless-related calls was not included because staff would have been paid for their time regardless of their duties. 
  • Grant money from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development was not included for Walnut Avenue Family and Women’s Center, Salvation Army and Community Technology Alliance because those groups did not respond to several attempts to verify their spending. Community Action Board also did not respond to some requests for information about money related to the Homeless Emergency Aid Program and California Emergency Solutions and Housing. 
  • Capitola and Scotts Valley budgets included no direct homeless-services spending from 2019 to 2021.

Stephen Baxter, Kara Meyberg Guzman and Natalya Dreszer

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