Over a bowl of soup, Santa Cruz County residents considered their own role in addressing houselessness, while donating funds toward the Homeless Service Center’s efforts to provide the houseless with homes.

The Homeless Services Center (HSC) held its 15th annual Soupline Supper on Thursday at Cocoanut Grove. The fundraiser was held in conjunction with over 40 Santa Cruz restaurants including The Bagelry, Manuel’s Mexican Restaurant and Shadowbrook, as well as a few well-known members of the community — from public officials to community leaders — acting as “celebrity ladlers.”

“We’ve been having this [event] for a long time and it’s our major fundraiser of the year,” said HSC board president Claudia Brown, “It’s a chance to bring the community together to understand what we’re trying to do in terms of ending homelessness.”

The HSC was founded in 1986 with the intention of eradicating houselessness in Santa Cruz County by providing paths to housing and supportive services to get the houseless housed. Along with grants and federal programs, fundraisers such as the Soupline Supper allow the organization to raise enough money to continue its efforts.

“Every dollar we spend, every program we have, is aimed toward getting people out of homelessness,” Brown said. “It’s not just enough to alleviate suffering, we have to end it. That’s what we’re about.”

Community members gathered at the Soupline Supper and donated anywhere from $25 to $10,000 toward the HSC. Around the grand ballroom at Cocoanut Grove, tables were topped with different breads and desserts donated by participating restaurants. The bay view room had the main course of 12 different soups, which were exchanged several times throughout the night.

The donors attended the event to enjoy a supper among their family, friends and like-minded community members, but donors like Marie Kagaju Laugharn left with a sense of duty and an avenue through which she could act.

“You never know who can become homeless tomorrow,” Laugharn said. “It’s important to get involved and do your part to contribute as much as you can to support these efforts to get people in homes and off of the streets. I’m not blind. I see the homeless issue in Santa Cruz every day.”

From 2011 to 2013, houselessness increased by 28 percent in Santa Cruz County — from 2,771 to 3,536 houseless people, according to Santa Cruz County’s 2013 Homeless Census and Survey.

With 82 percent of houseless individuals living on the streets, in abandoned buildings or in their cars, the need for emergency or transitional housing has risen. The HSC has attempted to address that need through five of its current programs.

Emergency and transitional housing offers a temporary home for houseless individuals. As time passes, the HSC helps transition houseless individuals into permanent and reasonably-priced housing.

However, unlike programs around the nation, the HSC goes beyond solely providing a temporary shelter — they provide help for the underlying issues that put a person at risk of houselessness. The programs provide anything from a meal, to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), to work-readiness workshops.

Beyond providing a roof over the heads of the houseless, HSC helps build a foundation for their future.

The HSC’s efforts have been commended by members of the community, including John Leopold, Santa Cruz County’s first district supervisor and one of the “celebrity ladlers.”

“They provide practical shelter space for people experiencing homelessness in Santa Cruz, but more importantly, they are also having a vision about how we end homelessness here in Santa Cruz County,” Leopold said. “We need to take both on-the-ground help and that vision about how we work together as a community to help make change happen.”

All the fundraiser proceeds go directly toward funding HSC’s programs. Aside from funding, the event stressed the importance of further informing the community about houselessness in Santa Cruz.

“Soupline Supper is a great way to expose other people in the community who might not deal with homelessness on a day-to-day basis to the work the HSC does and to how prevalent an issue it is in this community,” said donor and attendee Matt Nathanson.

Mary Lou Goeke, United Way of Santa Cruz County executive director and “celebrity ladler,” acknowledged the power of informing, but said the community needed to band together to create change.

“It takes everybody to deal with the complex problem of homelessness,” Goeke said. “If you’re [one of the more] expensive place to live in America — which we are — and you have UCSC students and Cabrillo students vying for rental housing, and it takes $2,000 a month to rent a home, how’s a homeless family going to rent a home? It really takes everybody to come up with a solution.”