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Indybay Feature

Brownies Against Bigotry: Stroll and Speak to the “Santa Cruz Nay-bors”

by Robert Norse
Munch and mingle with homeless folks, concerned community members, and “the Santa Cruz Neighbors” at the Community Room of the SCPD at 115 Center St. 6:45 PM Tuesday March 20th. Tasty “bigotbuster” brownies will be provided by masterchef Jumbogumbo Joe Schultz. There may also be a promenade from the sidewalk in front of New Leaf Market’s Tuesday night “munchin’ music” event to the police station at 6:30 PM.

At its last monthly meeting, the Santa Cruz Neighbors [SCN] invited notorious police officers (such as Loran “Butchie” Baker & Jim Howes) to advise and encourage community "policing". (e.g. how to call the cops on homeless people sleeping with no available shelter). In the past the police department has fought Sleeping Ban reform.

Last month, Downtown Association Executive Director Keith Holtaway was a guest speaker at the SCN and urged people not to give money or food to poor people downtown. All such donations, Holtaway urged (according to the SCN minutes), be given to "service-providers".

Some regard the Santa Cruz Neighbors as an electoral prop for Lynn Robinson, whose husband is a publicist for the terminally anti-homeless Seaside Company.

Robinson previously headed the group, but was recently elected to City Council. She, Ryan Coonerty, and Cynthia Mathews take credit for the current Downtown Crackdown, increasing police abuses against homeless people, street performers, youth, and others. Robinson has so far returned no calls to HUFF (Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom).

HUFF and HRO (the Human Rights Organization) have asked to be allowed a presentation at the meeting. Already featured are talks by Danielle Long--mental health worker, Ken Cole --executive director of the Homeless Service Center [HSC], and Officer Eric Seiley--the “Homeless Resource” person. None of these people have spoken out publicly against the crackdown.

Recently the community kicked down $5 million for a "Family Shelter" which provided NO expansion of emergency shelter. Another $700,000 has been slated to put beds in the HSC itself, but with the closing of the Interfaith Satellite Shelter Program, again no overall expansion.

Meanwhile the city continues to issue around 60 $90 citations per month for "sleeping" and provides (wretched) emergency shelter for only 5% of its 1500-2000 homeless. The SCN seem to be intent on ways of making life harder for these folks and clearing them off the streets.

Last year's homeless death toll was the highest yet, according to the HSC's own figures.

We urge people with experience in homelessness and concerns about the heavy police crackdown to show up and speak up.

More info: 423-4833.

HUFF meets Wednesdays 9:30 AM to 11:30 AM at the County Building in the basement at the American Cafe; HRO meets Saturdays 1:45 PM to 2:45 PM at 115 Coral St. in the Dining Bay of the Homeless Services Center.
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by Robert Norse
About a dozen homeless people and activists chowed-down outside the Community Police room, as Cole and Seiley gave their presentations.

Four homeless travelers attended specifically to complain about an arrest they witnessed on Pacific Avenue for marijuana sales. The group was reluctant to go inside and join the well-behaved audience receiving "orientation" from the two speakers.

Cole spoke sympathetically about "the homeless plight", but declined to criticize or comment on city laws criminalizing the poor. Speaking before an audience supportive of such laws, nestled into the police station, such an omission was rather glaring. When I approached him afterwards and asked him why he hadn't returned phone calls in answer to a few questions, his response was "I don't have to".

Cole broke with me and other homeless advocates 7 years ago when he declined to stand up to former police chief Belcher on behalf of the homeless when Cole was vice-chair of the Homeless Issues Task Farce. Since then he's raised funds for homeless projects that largely ignore the primary need of homeless people: emergency shelter and/or the right to sleep legally somewhere.

One bitter homeless person outside wondered why he didn't address "the black mold" in the homeless shower facilities. I asked about a $5 million "family shelter" that's half full, with no real expansion in emergency shelter facilities in the 8 years he's been "Executive Director".

Next up in plainclothes was Officer Eric Seiley, who developed a nasty reputation for hassling campers at Camp Paradise, the short-lived homeless run encampment back in 1991.

A similar, though more overtly abusive, attitude was taken by Seiley, who spent his time involving the audience in his "treat the homeless like cases" who need to have their problems analyzed. Smiling broadly (I used to call him "Smirking Seiley"), he controlled the audience with theoretical questions about a woman he'd helped with her "anger" problems.

But he refused to address questions like "how much of your time is taken up with providing resources--even presumptuous "we analyze your problems" therapizing, and how much with conventional policing activities?"

He didn't discuss all the angry homeless people created by police enforcement of abusive laws, nor his own personal tally of homeless people whose lives have been made more difficult through his busts for sleeping, "drug use", "open container", etc. His position as the bureaucrat- picked "Homeless Resource Officer" (no homeless or community input) has recerntly been restored along with 7 other officers for increasing policing of "criminal sleepers" in the Pogonip at a cost of somewhere between $200 and $700 grand.

Along the way he indicated support for the discredited (but SCPD-favored) "Broken Windows" theory where homeless presence in public spaces sleeping, sitting, or peacefully panhandling is supposedly like a broken window that encourages serious crime.

At the end of the session, though he claimed to be available for questions, he specifically refused to answer any of mine and adopted the trade mark supercillious attitude that he'd shown so frequently in uniform in the past. After turning to one person after another ("don't be rude, Mr. Norse") to avoid my repeated questions, he withdrew to the back of the police station, leading one of the Santa Cruz Neighbors with him.

For their part the Santa Cruz Neighbors, led by Michael Bethke, were polite, even amiable to myself and the other homeless people who attended. However, they allowed no speaking time for actual homeless people or advocates.

They continue to organize their anti-homeless gentrification agenda sugared with "concern over crime" labels while ignoring the outstanding problems of housing, jobs, and abusive laws that homeless people face.

I shall be playing selections from the meeting on my Thursday 6-8 PM Free Radio Santa Cruz show. Or possibly on the Sunday show (9:30 AM - 1 PM).
by Tim Rumford
I wish I could have made it. Its important that we do not allow the City to decide where people are allowed to be due to financial status. It seems they don't want anyone spending money to see what society really looks like. The "Santa Cruz Neighbors" seek to gentrify downtown. But where are the poor to go? Its OK to suffer, just not on the mall, in our parks, or even in your vehicle. We can't upset the elite consumers - they might see, or even feel compassion. It could upset there shopping agenda.

People don't realize how much money the homeless spend downtown. This is where they eat, buy whatever they need to live.

This is public space. Downtown is for everyone!
by Robert Norse
Ken Cole's description of his Homeless Resource Center is replayed at as well as my commentary.
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