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February 5, 2023

Boulder Creek Nonprofit Reaps ‘Giving Tuesday’ Benefits With Fundraiser

Efforts to help homeless people in the North County got a boost this week when a Santa Cruz bar held a Giving Tuesday fundraiser for a Boulder Creek nonprofit.

The Free Guide, one of the groups behind the Veterans Village in Ben Lomond, was the organization Shanty Shack chose to support during the yearly charity initiative, which started back in 2012 as a counterbalance to holiday commercialism.

Ian Blackwood, 65, joined his wife Kathy, 69, who works for The Free Guide, on the restaurant’s patio. Though they live in Santa Cruz now, the Blackwoods say they can’t help but want to assist with charitable efforts in the Santa Cruz Mountains, given their long history in the San Lorenzo Valley.

“We lived in Felton and Forest Lakes for 13 years,” Kathy said. “Coming out for a beer sounded good.”

Shanty Shack agreed to give $1 of every beer sold to the organization.

The venue was fitting, as many homeless people who were recently dispersed from the Benchlands when the tent city was closed weeks ago have taken up residence in the forest nearby along Highway 9.

While the brewery wasn’t packed, the event attracted a growing crowd throughout the night.

Acoustic guitarist Michael Mowgli, of Los Angeles, strummed his heart out.

An official for Congressman Jimmy Panetta’s office even showed up to support the cause.

Kathy says she’s proud of how The Free Guide offers support to homeless people in a way that’s respectful and compassionate.

“There are people who won’t go to the shelter because it doesn’t feel safe,” she said. “It’s a good community to be a part of.”

Kathy describes The Free Guide as a small organization that’s growing.

“We offer case management at the Veterans Village in Ben Lomond, we provide safe parking in Delaveaga Park by the shelter at the armory,” she said. “And then we provide The Free Guide, which is a written document which lists every possible thing we can find which is a resource for a person who might be without housing.”

The guide is updated regularly and published in multiple forms, including as a flier and as a card that unhoused individuals can carry with them.

“It’s to help people figure out where they can get help, where they can get their needs met,” she said.

Boulder Creek resident Evan Morrison, the executive director of The Free Guide, said he created the nonprofit in 2018 to fill a gap in the homeless-assistance landscape.

“We have about a fifth of the services we need,” he said. “So, it seemed like a no-brainer.”

Even now, he says there are just 240 shelter beds for around 1,700 local homeless people.

That reality came into sharp focus again earlier in the day, when Morrison met with someone needing housing as winter approached.

While Morrison had heard about Giving Tuesday before, he says it just wasn’t something he ever really focused on. He says he’s thankful Shanty Shack decided to donate to their organization.

“It’s really awesome that they’re willing and ready to partner,” he said. “I’m really happy with how it’s going. and for us, as a new organization to the scene, it’s a good start. We intend for this to be an organization that lasts many years—if not decades.”

While they’d love to replicate the Vets’ Village down the line, for now, they’re focusing on renovating the Ben Lomond site to create additional units for former soldiers and sailors.

“At this moment we’ve proved that we can launch successful programs,” he said. “What’s next for us is establishing funding on an ongoing basis, to make sure we can continue to make a difference in the community.”

Drew Penner
Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected]


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