The high price of housing, combined with exceptionally high unemployment rates, contribute to homelessness in Santa Cruz, California. But the isolation and instability homeless people everywhere face are factors that in turn contribute to chronic homelessness. What’s more, many homeless people must struggle harder to keep minimum wage jobs which they don’t find personally meaningful. This presents an additional challenge – and only contributes to feelings of isolation and alienation.
For nearly thirty years, The Homeless Garden Project has been working to address these challenges by providing the homeless of Santa Cruz with job-training, community, and meaningful work, in a safe and therapeutic environment. They do so via two main programs: Natural Bridges Farm Program, and the Women’s Organic Flower Enterprise (WOFE).
Trainees in the Farm Program learn to sow, cultivate, and harvest organic produce and fresh cut flowers. The harvest is sold through the project’s CSA, which also works to connect participants with the surrounding community – providing them with more potential job and housing opportunities. Donated CSA “scholarships” help low-income community members afford CSA shares.
WOFE trainees learn to dry herbs and flowers, and to make dried arrangements, wreaths, natural candles and soaps, jams, teas and more. The products are sold in the Garden Project’s shop in downtown Santa Cruz, with all revenue returning to the program. Though the project was originally set up with the intention of creating a safe space for women, WOFE now employs men as well, while still working hard to maintain the atmosphere of safety.
In addition to these programs, trainees can pair with Social Work Interns, who will help them set specific goals, and find more job, housing, and health care opportunities. The garden also hosts shorter classes and certificate programs, along with a cafe that provides free hot meals made with fresh garden produce.
Perhaps most importantly, the garden looks like a beautiful and welcoming place to spend time. By providing trainees with this safe space, with consistent community and support, and with the skills to do enjoyable, meaningful work, The Homeless Garden Project has helped many over the years in their struggles with chronic homelessness.
To learn more, visit: http://www.homelessgardenproject.org/index.php.