The Homeless Garden Project

An Effective Practice


Santa Cruz County has unemployment rates that routinely exceed state and national averages (Environmental Research Foundation, 2002). Increasing numbers of people are living below the national poverty level and many are chronically homeless. Those who find work often earn minimum wage at jobs that are not personally meaningful. Those who remain unemployed face serious issues of isolation, with no network of support.

The Homeless Garden Project began in 1990, in conjunction with the Santa Cruz County Parks and Recreation Department's Community Gardens Program. The project is affiliated with the Santa Cruz Citizen's Committee for the Homeless, along with the federally funded Interfaith Satellite Shelter Program (ISSP) which provides service managers, payroll services, and supervisory direction. At its inception the project was located on a two and a half-acre parcel. In 2002, five full-time staff are salaried employees, and 24 homeless gardeners are employed for 20-30 hours a week at $6.75 an hour (minimum wage). The food and flowers that are grown are sold at a local farmer's market, at natural food stores, to local restaurants, and others.

The program has expanded to include a farm, gardens, and a cafe that provides two hot meals for anyone volunteering or working that day. Job training includes formal classes and hands-on work at the farm, the edible plants nursery, or the Women's Organic Flower Enterprise. The program connects trainees with the community, helping them to apply for jobs, find housing, and enroll in appropriate physical and mental health services. College students from UCSC participate on internship projects on the farm, and school and youth groups come to the farm to learn about ecology, nutrition, and civics.

Goal / Mission

The goals of the Homeless Garden Project (HGP) are to offer a supportive, meaningful work environment that encourages self-esteem, responsibility, and self-sufficiency; to integrate homeless people and the community in the security and beauty of a productive garden; and to put into practice the principles of economic and ecological sustainability.

Results / Accomplishments

From 1990 to 1998, The Homeless Garden Project provided training and employment to more than 120 people and paid out more than $200,000 in wages to those individuals. In 1998, the Homeless Garden Project worked with 40 participants, half of whom were chronically homeless. By program completion, well over half had already found housing, while another 55 percent had reconnected with family.

About this Promising Practice

Primary Contact
Darrie Ganzhorn
Homeless Garden Project
P.O. Box 617
Santa Cruz, CA 95061
(831) 426-3609
Economy / Homelessness
Environment / Built Environment
Social Environment / Social & Civic Involvement
The Homeless Garden Project
Corporation for National and Community Service
Date of publication
Date of implementation
May 1990
Santa Cruz County, CA
Additional Audience