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Homelessness: Our Failure As A Society
by Micah Posner
Friday May 5th, 2017 12:30 PM
While the City of Santa Cruz is statistically better than the County of Santa Cruz at providing low income housing, it is much worse in the way that it denigrates and criminalizes people who cannot afford the rents being offered.
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[ Photo by Alex Darocy. July 4, 2016. Rabbi Philip Posner (center) addressing demonstrators at the Santa Cruz Post Office to decide the location of the campout. ]


Housing for All demonstration on May 9th

Dear Fellow Citizens,

Please join me in demonstrating for housing for all on Tuesday, May 7th. Our march will begin at the County building at 3:30PM, then proceed to City Hall, with a demonstration. At 7PM, we will hear the Council talk about homelessness and have the right to testify. After the demonstration, some of us will be sleeping out at City Hall in solidarity with the homeless.

If you heard anything that Bernie Sanders said or have any kind of grasp of basic economics, it is clear that this generation of America is characterized by a very large, and growing, disparity between the rich and the poor- the worst since the 1930s. And in Santa Cruz, with the 2nd highest price of housing in the nation, the very poor are homeless. As a society we have created homelessness in Santa Cruz by the intersection between our economy and our cost of housing.

This is not to say that people without houses are all sweethearts. Many of them are, to some degree, mentally ill or unstable. And/ or using drugs. And being without a home greatly exacerbates whatever disfunctionality a person already exhibits. So we are not responsible for the individual choices of each person without a home. But we are responsible, as a society, for the economic system that means that the very poor do not have homes. And we are, increasingly, responsible for the fact that the very poor are stigmatized, criminalized, and harassed.

If you believe, like Sanders and I do, that a central responsibility of government is to manage the economic system to maintain some amount of safety and dignity for all of our citizens, then our government, at all levels, is doing a worse job than at any time since the early 1930s. And that includes our local government. While both the county and the city (the city is better than the county) do build low income housing, neither builds enough to house our large population of low income service workers, or even our teachers and carpenters. The County has abandoned the concept of forcing large developers to build low income housing on site. While the City THEORITICALLY requires 15% on-site low income housing for large developments, the staff and Council have been letting off larger developers through loopholes in the code and a lack of backbone. The huge new development on lower Pacific Avenue will have only a few low income housing units, way below 15%. An even bigger development planned for lower Pacific and Front does not currently plan on providing the 15% mandate. We need to close the loopholes and demand low income housing with every development. We also need to stop waiting for the feds or the state, and develop some kind of local funding mechanism for low income housing, like they recently did in San Jose.

While the City is statistically better than the County at providing low income housing, it is much worse in the way that it denigrates and criminalizes people who cannot afford the rents being offered. Through a series of ordinances collectively known as 'the sleeping ban,' the City criminalizes and harasses its residents without houses. If one sleeps outside in public anywhere in the City of Santa Cruz, you can get a citation. Because the courts refuse to enforce the citations, there is no threat of jail time. But once a person gets a job and tries to get an apartment, the citations will be charged as civil fines and taken from one's pay, further discouraging the chance to make it out of the cycle of homelessness. Moreover, while economic disparity has greatly increased the number of people without homes, local governments have not increased the number of emergency shelters. The churches have tried to step in and recently operated a very successful and community supported winter shelter. I had the honor to work there. But City and County monies only funded it until April 7th. Then the 100 people using the shelter are expected to sleep outside again. And get tickets for sleeping. For the misguided people who think that our few homeless services expand homelessness locally, the lack of additional shelter over 20 years coupled with the exponential rise of people without homes in Santa Cruz should be evidence that this is not true. Claiming that homeless shelters create homelessness is like claiming that putting a roof on your house creates rain. It's unreasonable and it scapegoats the very poor.

So what do we do in this country when we see a societal problem with a government that is not stepping in to solve it. We march. We demonstrate. And, sometimes, we commit civil disobedience. My father, Rabbi Philip Posner, now 79 years old, was a freedom rider who spent 39 days in jail in Mississippi in 1961 as part of the civil rights movement. He views the treatment of the homeless as this generation’s call to conscience. “A legal place to sleep is a human right", he says. "Criminalizing the homeless amounts to penalizing people for being poor.” He helped start the Freedom Sleepers, a group of people with and without homes who sleep out at City Hall every Tuesday.

Sherry (last name withheld to avoid persecution by City officials) has been sleeping at City Hall for a few weeks since the winter shelter closed and left her without a place to be. “At least here,” she says, “I feel a little bit safer. It’s public and there are people around. Plus I like supporting other people who are in the same situation as me.” Since Max doesn’t have another place to sleep anyway, his choice to sleep at City Hall is tactical, “I want them to see me here in the morning. I want them to see homeless people here until they do something about it.”

The City Council will be, once again, discussing homelessness on the 9th at 7PM. Their report is interesting and accurate but the idea of opening another shelter is put into the 5 years or more category, despite data in the report showing that we offer less shelter than most cities in California. The City is stuck in ongoing conversations that are not quickly bearing fruit. So we need to protest. We need to demonstrate. Please come listen to the report and address the Council. This can also be done by email. Read it under the City Council tab at cityofsantacruz.com. Then email citycouncil [at] cityofsantacruz.com.

After the demonstration, I will be joining dozens of people including Max and Sherry and my father in sleeping at at City Hall. I think that my daughter and some of her friends and their families will be joining us. I invite all of you to bring a sleeping bag and join us. It is a hard decision to make. Having people sleep at City Hall is difficult for the staff, who are I very much respect and admire. And it is more difficult for the staff since they decided to lock the bathrooms. And no one group of people, not the City Councilmembers, nor the City staff, are responsible for homelessness. But the City is not doing everything it can to provide emergency shelters and affordable housing. And, even worse, it is criminalizing the very poor for our failure as a society to house them. This has got to stop.


For more information contact the leaders of the protest.

Steve Pleich: spleich [at] gmail.com. 831 466 6078
Keith McHenry: keith [at] foodnotbombs.net. 575-770-3377
Audrey Simmons: audreysimmons1995 [at] gmail.com. 805 540 8109

In solidarity,

Micah Posner

--

No Penalty for Poverty - Housing For All
https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2017/04/24/18798752.php

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by julia
Friday May 5th, 2017 1:12 PM
I'm so proud of what you are doing!

We have to remember that the government created homelessness. I'm old enough to remember the first visible homeless people in Washington, D.C. Since the Federal Gov't has refused to do anything about it, it's up to the people.

Even if you are mentally sane, homelessness can make you crazy.
by Pat Colby
Friday May 5th, 2017 8:46 PM
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In 1994 I was completely disabled by my job as a Journeyman Printer. I was finally earning a reasonable wage at $17 an hour in Santa Cruz. Unfortunately, it cost me my future livelihood. I became an economically disadvantaged disabled person. In 2005 I got into a project based Section 8 which cost 30% of my SSDI income. This was affordable, although I was still just scraping by. But at least I had housing. Soon after I discovered what living in Section 8 really meant. It is a very different world than I had ever been around. In this 50 unit apartment complex I was surrounded by a crazy world of drug dealers, Westsider surf gang safe houses and crazy addicts/drunks. Within a few months of moving in I was forced to ask for a transfer from two chain smoking methamphetamine addicts whose secondhand tobacco smoke was killing me. I experienced four episodes where I woke up because I couldn't breath. I I slept each night not knowing if this would be the time I couldn't open my windpipe to get air, that I would die.

On November 1, 2005, my doctor gave me a reasonable accommodation letter asking for a transfer. It shouldn't have been a problem because there were HUD regulations in place to accommodate medically required transfers. But it proved to be anything but easy: it ruined my life for the last decade. Not only would the chain smoking manager not transfer me but the resident drug and gang criminals started to stalk my brother and I in retaliation for hiring attorney Ed Frey (causing financial ruin) to force the management to transfer me.

My car was vandalized, other tenants were being told slanderous lies to make the complex a hostile environment, false complaints were given to the management to get us falsely evicted and a domestic hate group — that one of the addict-drunk-DUI drivers joined — began to gang stalk us after a murder April 2010 which we gave testimony to police investigators. Please see the libelous website created by members of the domestic hate group Take Back Santa Cruz and their Section 8 criminal allies.

We appealed to the city, county, local law enforcement, HUD, CADOJ and USDOJ, our state and federal representatives and the regional-national-international news media. One would think that criminals living in glasshouses would be easy to stop when you reported their crimes to the proper authorities, but instead we — the victims — were punished.

The end result of all this was that on September 1, 2016 I was fraudulently made homeless along with my brother and our two emotional assistant cats. My only crime was being too poor to hire an attorney to intercede on my behalf. I am a disabled. I don't drink, smoke or do any kind of illegal drugs. I have no criminal record. I always pay my car registration and insurance. I do not litter. I advocate to help other disabled people whenever I can. I have volunteered in the community to give back even though I am unable to work.

Why am I forced into homelessness that is killing me because makes it impossible to take my life saving medicines and use my life saving C-PAP so I don't stop breathing and die in my sleep! Why am I forced to sleep vulnerably with only a pane of glass to protect me from the nightly stalking activity of Take Back Santa Cruz and Section 8 gang stalkers (including my old subsidized and housed Section 8 gangsters-drug criminals). Why am I forced to sleep vulnerably with only glass to protect me from the hate criminals posting internet death threats against my brother and I plus our cats.

Why am I and other innocent people who ended up on the street being punished for being poor??
by Robert Norse
(rnorse3 [at] hotmail.com) Saturday May 6th, 2017 1:48 PM
Missing from Micah's analysis--good in many points--is any specific historical understanding of the role of City Council and its masters, the City Manager and his staff. Micah's tendency to be deferential to the staff was unfortunately much in evidence when he was on City Council and can be very misleading to newcomers who want to understand the situation.

Much of the anti-homeless legislation, priorities, and attitudes in the last thirty years can be traced to an entrenched reactionary staff headed by City Manager Bernal, City Attorney Condotti (and before him Barisone), and other department heads who earn the big bucks. To excuse their behavior is to justify and perpetuate the abuses against poor people outside.

A PHONY REPORT
The Final Report of the Homelessness Coordinating Committee on the Council’s May 9th Evening Agenda is a bad joke. [http://scsire.cityofsantacruz.com/sirepub/cache/2/efyi3lsa1xpovuc2poq3qitk/457855405052017100625392.PDF ]

A better report is the Final Report of the Santa Cruz City Homeless Issues Task Force - at http://sccounty01.co.santa-cruz.ca.us/bds/Govstream/BDSvData/non_legacy/agendas/2000/20000502/PDF/020.pdf . It was ignored by the City Council and served as an activist “cooling off” tactic which effectively derailed protest. But there was sufficient pressure at that time for the report to actually recommend elimination of the entire Camping Ordinance as an emergency resolution many months before releasing the final report (p. 0064). For the City Council, the report served as protective cover and false reassurance. We have seen the pathetic results in the last 17 years.

Mayor Chase's report is fluffed up with flowery and political correct blather about "ending homelessness" through "smart solutions", more future plans, shifting responsibility to the County, and other false hopes. It is a complete facade that attempts to cover over and divert our attention from the actual behavior of city authorities towards unhoused folks to the glistening good intentions of two-faced politicos. To afford it any credibility and waste time "discussing" it is to play into the hands of those whose interest is in getting rid of the visible homeless, pandering to neighborhood bigots, and serving merchant interests. I.e. shifting the focus from what they're doing to what they're saying. Preserving the status quo.

It's also a small clue, that the three Councilmembers who cooked up the report all voted last March to maintain the absurd and abusive 11 PM - 8:30 AM Sleeping Ban and have not changed their position.


WELL-MANNERED ACTIVISTS DON'T MAKE HERSTORY
As for the idea of "making nice" with the Council on Tuesday night (or thereafter).

Consider City Council's recent history of almost continuous expansion of anti-homeless legislation, its contraction of support for shelter space (i.e. ignoring the conversion of the Homeless (Lack of) Services Center into a Homeless Prison/GrantGrabber), and its support of police mythology criminalizing homelessness and propagandizing the community with "public safety" nonsense and measures (closing the levee, intensifying Parks and Rec powers, winking at Bernal and Vogel's attacks on activists).

It's important that the community be made aware of this, not misled into believing that the Council is actually doing anything real or planning to do something real. The community has to be spurred to understand the legitimacy of outrage, and the need to ACT on that outrage. That is done by clearly defining the issues --clarifying who are the heroes and who are the villains. Whose actions show themselves to be the enemies of reform, and those who are waging the struggle.

BRING BAGGAGE AND FRIENDS
We need to take sleeping bags and blankets into City Hall and lay them down.

I was told that two trucks hauled away houseless folks property from City Hall two days ago and disposed of sleeping gear, blankets, and cloth as "trash".

There can be no meaningful dialogue until there is the power of visible commitment. I have my doubts about pretty speeches and a one-night sleep out having much impact. In fact, they may fit quite well into the Council's "see how democratic we are!" stance as they send cops and rangers in the next day to steal survival gear from those who remain after we liberals have gone home.

The "incremental" approach failed a year ago (in the token Sleeping Ban repeal vote). The notion that being "moderate" will attract the timid and tame the Neanderthals is simply wrong here. The Democrats have been proving that for years on the national scene. It's a form of surrender before the struggle has begun.

SUPPORT THE SURVIVAL SLEEPERS
Meanwhile Survival Sleepers at City Hall are taking the real heat while we engage in media posturing. It is their nightly struggle, however unpretty and unpopular with the powerful that needs to be supported. As long as they choose to make it. That's where our energy needs to be going as best we can.

Contact HUFF at 831-423-4833 to offer help to the survival sleepers. Suggestions are at https://www.indybay.org/uploads/2017/04/24/survivor_sleepers_sign-up_list.pdf .

A GOOD EXAMPLE
Black students up at UCSC have shown that direct action gets the goods.

And Reclaiming City Hall might be a very good start.

See you Tuesday night. With bag and bathrobe.
by Razer Ray
Sunday May 7th, 2017 10:27 AM
Last night my camp-mate whose been here for 4 month informed me he will be leaving the area because of his inability to find housing despite finding work within a month of landing in town.

He's quiet and polite
He meditates daily.
He doesn't drink
He isn't a druggie

It's the first time in his 20-something years he's ever been homeless after his work ran out in Austin Tx and a friend of his who initially housed him here bought him a bus ticket to town.

He works hard at a restaurant job and fancies himself a 'beatmaker', a musician, but isn't depending on street performance for income. He has bigger dreams.

He's what you might call a 'model citizen'.

He's leaving.

Meanwhile, the city and county continue to suck the tit of what's left of the US welfare state for targeted federal funding for behavioral health clients and drug/alcohol addicts, who every program I've seen so far aimed at the homeless targets... long before the so-called 'shelter' converted to a consolidated services center. They will have housing. They will be able to stay. They will be the ones the businesses, and police, and the bird-cage-liner of a local newspaper, the Santa Cruz Senile, will vilify when they 'fuck up', as if the homeless are always a net detriment and burden on what passes for community in this clip-joint-for-the-pseudo-affluent city.

The city of Santa Cruz planners ...especially their so-called 'long-range planners' should be ashamed of themselves. Their essentially criminal collusion with property and business interest in this city, many of them not even local to the area, has destroyed anything resembling culture here, only to be replaced with 'pop-culture', people who think acting bizarrely is somehow 'hip', and commercial art, or, as a person who hadn't been here for 20 years told me upon returning on business and going downtown to shop ten years ago; "Pier 1 Crap".

Thanks for nothing city and county government. You've done an exemplary job of destroying a community of 'people who care', and replaced it with people who 'buy in'. But beyond that 'investment' in housing etc, they have no interest whatsoever in the socio-economic health of the rest of the residents of the town.

You get the kind of homeless people you plan for... and you GOT them.
by Pat Colby
Sunday May 7th, 2017 9:16 PM
Razor Ray, I agree with most of what you posted above.

Santa Cruz is in the midst of a classist culture war.

The leaders of SC had supported and enabled a "Drug Culture" by not addressing across the board drug problems that are the public safety problem!

Now they are have a serious "Drug Culture" unique to SC and all the crime that goes along with it. It not a housed nor unhoused problem it is a "Drug Problem"! Until the white elephant in the room is addressed as that nothing will change. All the alcohol (bars downtown and across town) and the easy drug availability (open blanat drug dealing everywhere) have ruined Santa Cruz.
by Razer Ray
Monday May 8th, 2017 9:54 AM
[Video: A short exposition by Superman and Batman done in light marxist dialectic using Prostitution laws as an example of who 'nuisance ordinances' like 'sleeping bans' and 'no smoking zones' are intended to serve.]

Class War. Culture is related to class. Culture comes from the "lower classes", and the upper classes, too busy accumulating money, power, whatever, to develop one of their own, mimics and 'affects' it. "Weekend Hippies", "Banker Bikers", "Surfers" who surf when their busy schedule allows it and troop over the hill in their spotless SUVs with once-waxed ding-less boards (Have I mentioned Surfers were the original 'bums" around here?), etc.

What's happened here, BY PLANNING AND DESIGN, has adversely affected everyone but the commercial property interests. Even the business owners are fucked by what the city did ... except for the corporate stores with deep pockets to ride out the extreme cycles in revenue streams and a few businesses that run on shoestrings and exist to serve tourists (The "Flip Flop Shop" on Pacific comes to mind) and niche-markets that serves college students (that hole in the wall called "Quickly" is there to serve Asian UC students). The stores are postage stamp size with HUGE leases (the oh my sole hole-in-the-wall on Pacific is available for TEN GRAND a month...) forcing often sympathetic to the poor businesses like coffee shops to create rules regarding visit length, just to survive. The Catalyst use to have music that suited all tastes play their stages. But now it's almost exclusively targeting students And the MAH? They finally admitted what everyone knew all along. The MAH isn't a museum, it's an "Event Center". But unlike the KUSP Auction that used to be held in the plaza nearby, those Events ARE NOT intended for the citizens of the area. Often they aren't even advertised here.

Again, because there is no working or lower middle class in Santa Cruz anymore. I reiterate: By design and planning, The city of Santa Cruz ABSOLUTELY DID NOT look after the welfare of ALL OF IT'S CITIZENS, and in that, is most likely civilly or criminally liable. Not to mention the fiduciary malfeasance of spending millions of dollars of taxpayers money over the years on anti-homeless/poor policies, criminalization and disenfranchisement specifically, that every 'industry-standard' study used by cities to plan their homeless policies say do not work.