Retired aerospace executive John Dietz ’54
is breaking down barriers and bringing hope to the homeless population of Santa Cruz County, California. In 2012, John formed a Volunteer Housing Navigation group that connects the homeless to affordable housing landlords.
The effort is a part of the 180/2020 program, which has the goal of housing 1,000 chronically homeless by 2020, effectively turning their lives around 180 degrees. It follows the “Housing First” model, which prioritizes finding housing for the homeless first and then providing supporting services addressing addiction, mental health, employment, etc. So far, the program has housed over 750 people.
John and the other volunteer housing navigators search listings for affordable housing, build relationships with landlords inclined to housing the homeless, and provide various other support.
The Volunteer Housing Navigation group also serves on the County Behavioral Health Advisory Board subcommittee for Mental Health programs. “Our boots-on-the-ground knowledge of matching clients to housing has proven to be a valuable asset to formulation and updating of the county’s mental health programs that focus on permanent supportive housing,” explains John.
Mental health and homelessness are issues close to John’s heart, as his family has seen the effects of both firsthand. “For the past 30 years, I have supported a family member who has a serious mental health problem,” John shares. “He was homeless for 25 years until he was convinced to move into a small cottage that the family subsidized. Being housed added stability to his life and there was a turnaround in his behavior that was far superior to his previous use of anti-psychotic drugs prescribed by his doctors.”
Witnessing this transformation inspired John to join the efforts of the 180/2020 program and to support the development of “Housing First” as a solution to homelessness in Santa Cruz. “I believe that homelessness is a temporary state of misfortune, not a way of life,” he asserts. For John, there is nothing more rewarding than handing the apartment key to a homeless person, knowing the happiness and stability it will unlock in his or her life.Article from The Mount magazine.