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Indybay Feature

Struggling on the Street

by Donna Deiss (posted by Robert Norse)
Recently evicted Tenants Rights Union of Santa Cruz founder Donna Deiss, and her partner Shane were evicted last month. Her report from her RV follows.
From: Donna Deiss <tenantsrights [at] inbox.com>
To: rnorse3 [at] hotmail.com
Subject: insights on homelessness
Date: Sun, 10 Sep 2006 13:29:36 -0800

Robert: This new email needs contacts and more political news. I wasn't able to save my contacts, favorites or saved folders when I had to move out of my home of 12 years on AUg. 9, 2006.

I have never really been homeless before. Once in the sixties my best friend and I crashed at a friend's apartment for a week or so. That wasn't really homelessness, was it? In the seventies I moved out from a boyfriend who moved in a new girlfriend after three years and I slept in a field. A man and his son saw my body wrapped in an old sleeping bag and assumed I was dead so called the police. (This was in Vallejo, a bedroom community at the top of the bay. The officer was uncomfortable asking if I had any friends or family I could stay with. My old boyfriend told me to come back but I wasn't going to listen to his mouth or criticism so I declined. They called my work and a bunch of my co-workers offered a couch for a few weeks. That was kinda fun so I didn't really consider myself homeless either.

Of course the term really became defined in the eighties when the fast track eviction laws in California were made law. Occasionally I'd see someone with long hair and fingernails hiding in a corner of the post office til midnight when they closed. He was afraid to or couldn't speak so I just said hello and wished him well trying to make him not be afraid I would call the police. The first bag lady I saw had a huge trash bag full of her stuff in her shopping cart and walked around town all day talking to no one.

In San Francisco it was much worse. Angry men in clothes patched together with dozens of safety pins raged incoherently at the Greyhound bus station. They were gradually pushed out to the street like the regular alcoholic bums, casualties of the mental health system.

Living in Santa Cruz with a housing shortage since the earthquake in 1989 regular working people and those with disabilities became homeless more and more. El Nino made it worse and our city and county leaders failed to take action when it was appropriate. Siding on the side of tenants was seen as being against bad landlords so it wasn't seen as inclusive enough to receive funding. Bad landlords include slumlords, greedy landlords and those who like to brag about the property they own and how much profit they made from it without doing any physical labor.

I saw even middle class professionals evicted when real estate prices jumped up in 1996-1998. I saw people living in dangerous and unsafe conditions out of necessity and the Sentinel even printed there were at least 3,000 illegal units in our county. At the sametime local ordnances against sleeping in your car or on public property from 10 PM to 5 AM increased. Many locals wanted to believe the homeless were just out of towners until they saw the statistics. Housing prices and sales rose and the homeless increased. Camp Paradise and the Back40 were noble attempts to alleviate the problem but eventually our local politicians gave up on rectifying the situation and denied any responsibility for justifying its liberal image insofar as implementing novel temporary housing solutions such as a campground or tent city. Some people believed these people were just bums looking for a free ride and prejudged many that were legally declared disabled.

Since AUgust 9 after a horrendous battle against a millionaire landlord I and my partner who has AIDS, Shane were forced out by the landlord's judgment in his favor due to the 30 day without cause law used in eviction cases. I worked for 25 years including as a journeyman marine pipefitter so had an IRA and was able to buy a 21 ft. RV. WHo knows how we'll make it to old age but at my age and my disabilities as well as SHane's we could not survive sleeping in the woods or in a shelter where Shane would be subject to hundreds of germs and bacteria his immune system could not fight against.

Shane did end up in the hospital a week later with pneumonia and the new antibiotic resistant MSRA strain of staff infection.
We have had a hard time keeping our batteries going so we can stay warm and charge the cell phone and computer. I know we are not really homeless because we have these things but there are other hardships as well.

Being able to retain a home address matters for voting and signing petitions. Many businesses and credit companies will not trust someone who only has a PO box. THe indignity of asking to use another's address is rude just as having to seek out a restroom without buying something. It's been hard to stay on the Internet as many servers are shut down at night even though they have YFi.

Sleeping in a shopping center or other private lot sounds like a good idea compared to the street but First Alarm comes around at 5 AM to roust people. Who needs the police in their face for sleeping at a normal time just like everyone else -- at night. Are there any other towns that do this? Even Davenport Landing has at least 20 no parking signs all down where one would like to rest and be able to see or at least hear the ocean.

Shane is worried and wants to get a hotel on the first, hopefully with SCAP's help. He has had to do way too much what with changing batteries, keeping warm and redoing the poor wiring. We will probably need to be indoors before the rains as I se a few leak marks on the ceiling.

We have have had two encounters with the police already. Yesterday some cops questioned Shane as he took our bunny Fluffy out on the Mall to try to meet people and get spare change. Since he is not a dog they couldn't do anything but watch for a new ordnance banning ALL animals downtown. THey are creating an artificial environment there and its look like tourists will outnumber the locals at last.

Love & Peace, Donna Deiss
Add Your Comments

Comments (Hide Comments)
by 309301
Hey, here's a thought! Why don't you drive somewhere where housing is cheaper and more plentiful? You know, like, MOVE?

It isn't rocket science.

It's so much easier to just complain, isn't it?
by .
you cat move ''somewhere else'' unless your white ,usually. cheap rent places in rural areas are dangerously racist. people have been killed.
by Cholito
You have got to be kidding. You know that minorities live in rural areas too right? Have you actually ever been to one of these “dangerously racist” places?
by ?
only white people can move??? cuz folks have been killed?? pick up the sentinel any day and see who has been stabbed, shot, raped here in 'paradise'.
by cp
It's true (part of what he/she was writing in comment above). Santa Cruz seems to have an unusually high rate of senseless murders. Parts of the east bay have substantially sized working class neighborhoods, and higher property crime, yet don't have nearly the same rate of murders. Only cities such as Richmond or east Oakland which have regions of true poverty (larger than Beach flats which is essentially 4x4blocks) have a higher murder rate. For instance, Berkeley has many more mentally ill people, and has quite a few acres of housing with poor people, (while Santa Cruz is sort of a resort) and it has only had 3 murders this year.
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