Activist Responds to Santa Cruz Mayor’s Open Letter on Homeless Issues

The mayor could ask the city manager and police chief to stop all citations of those sleeping, covering up with blankets, camping outside or "being in a park after closing." He could publicly state he believes the public has the right to be at City Hall after dark in peaceful protest.

by Robert Norse, HUFF

Homeless United for Friendship and Freedom (HUFF) discussed the recent Facebook posting by Santa Cruz Mayor Don Lane, and our member’s response.

Somewhat against my inclination, Becky moved and HUFF voted to contact each of the Santa Cruz City Councilmembers to determine their position on Lane’s proposed removal of sections MC 9.36.010a and b from the Camping Ordinance. This should clarify the real division on the City Council and expose the real tensions and real violence — as Martin Luther King might have said.

I’m not one to reject partial steps towards restoring basic civil rights to those outside. However the following needs to be said:

It appears this is being done in response to potential threats of litigation and funding cutoff from HUD for cities that continue to criminalize homelessness (as was the case with Vancouver, WA, and various southern California cities recently).  The point here is that merely eliminating “sleeping” and “blankets” provides no immunity from 6.36.010c citations (“camping with the intent to remain overnight”).  Nor from other citations that serve the same purpose.  Nor from the weather and danger of sleeping outside.  It does however provide possible legal protection from litigation and a claim that Santa Cruz is “doing something” and shouldn’t have its funding cut off.

What could Mayor Lane do that would involve action rather than rhetoric?

  1. As Mayor, he could ask the City Manager and Police Chief to stop all citations of those sleeping, covering up with blankets, or camping outside either for those offenses or for “being in a park after closing” (something now frequently used which suspiciously looks like a dodge against potential litigation and liability for 8th Amendment violations).  The Council majority could counter him with different instructions — but that would be most embarrassing for them.
  1. As Mayor, he could publicly state he believes the public has the right to be at City Hall after dark in peaceful protest, and ask for removal of the klieg lights, no parking jackets over the meters, and First Alarm thugs that appear every Tuesday night when the Freedom Sleepers hold their protests.
  1. As Mayor, he could publicly request the City Attorney to grant amnesty for all MC 6.36. and MC 13.04.011 citations for the last two years and request the courts (with whom he’s worked with on such friendly terms for the bogus DAP program) do the same.
  1. As a member of the City Council, Mayor Lane has voted for a series of anti-homeless laws over the last decade, including expanding the forbidden zones downtown where people can sit, perform, peacefully sparechange, or table; making three unattended infraction citations the basis for a misdemeanor prosecution; making every subsequent infraction citation after three unpaid ones an actual misdemeanor; criminalizing peacefully standing on a median with a sign; making taking issue with a park employee  a misdemeanor; and the cop-empowering Stay-Away order laws.
  1. As Homeless Services Supporter, Lane could apologize for voting for the requirement that the Homeless (Lack of) Services Center be transformed into a de facto prison (with gate, guards, ID) with the funding that should go to expanded services, and actually bring up restoration of general homeless services (such as bathroom and regular shower access, meals, and laundry use); require the HLOSC dump the bogus grant-seeking “path to housing” requirements of the Paul Lee Loft and return to its original mission.  (which was actually to get the homeless away from the downtown, but at least made a pretense of providing food, access to waiting lists though not really shelter, and other rather basic services).
Life.jpg Freedom Sleepers take their message of protest inside the chambers of the Santa Cruz City Council. Photo by Alex Darocy

Santa Cruz activists take their message of protest inside the the City Council chambers.

The Freedom Sleepers of Santa Cruz are holding highly visible protests demanding an end to the sleeping and camping ban in Santa Cruz.

Freedom Sleepers are holding highly visible protests demanding an end to the sleeping and camping ban in Santa Cruz. Photos by Alex Darocy

 

  1. Introduce a measure to provide dumpsters, portapotties, and regular trash pick-ups for all existing homeless encampments —where homeless people actually live these days.  Or do so through a private charity drive as was done in Fresno.
  1. Make it clear that the “Magnet” Theory, the “Homeless as Public Safety Threats,” the “Needlemania” mythsteria, and the other dangerous but effective pretexts used over the last few years to pass many of these laws and fund abusive police/ranger behavior have no basis in fact. Lane does not mention these “elephants in the room” at all and perhaps for understandable reasons — namely, that he went along with this mythology and may not have the fortitude to challenge it.  Or perhaps he’s afraid it will offend the right-wing Council majority and its Take Back Santa Cruz homeless-bashers to blow away their bugaboos.
  1. Lane voted for the crap that came out of them (the Citizens Public Safety Task Force for instance).  He needs to specifically repudiate those votes and support their repeal.
  1. Declare that during the first rains, if there is no real shelter (“warming center” or “sanctuary place” or “campground” or “tent city,” whatever you want to call it) available, he will join with activists in simply going into a vacant building and using it for that purpose — whether we’re talking Civic Auditorium, City Hall Council chambers, Stadium, etc. to protect the lives and safety of those he cares so much about.

Lane’s letter states that “enforcement hasn’t worked,” yet there is no mention of human rights, civil rights, or criminalization.

The issue is not whether Lane’s proposals are better than the Council majority’s bullshit, but whether they are adequate for homeless survival this winter.  And for HUFF, whether they have anything to do with the “mandatory minimums” that will really set us on the right path.

For me, we wouldn’t be very far along that path which involves real housing, rewarding work, revolutionary shift from war to healing, profound redistribution if power and income, and other rather profound changes.

Lane has his Lengthy Redemption Lament.  We have our job to do — which has to do with reality not rhetoric.  Let’s get on with it.

 

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