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Homeless Services Center and Calamity's Cupboard -- and Art Show!
by Linda Ellen Lemaster (homes4everyone [at]
Tuesday Dec 5th, 2017 5:51 PM
I went to TOUCHED BY HOMELESSNESS, an inclusive Art Show, in early November. Story reviews the art on display at HSC show, then through memories, I've explored HSC history and community engagement
Art Show - Touched by Homelessness
curating - Marsa Greenspan
Gallery Host - Homeless Services Center

Enjoying this display of Art projects at Homeless Services Center -- there were wonderful works from well loved local artists, for example Vanessa Stafford. Instantly I loved her painting, "Tents." Stafford is such a charming visionary.

I was also smitten by the "sweaty sheep" contribution of more than a dozen pictures as a huge block together. This group works with our youth and they plan group adventures together. I love children's art anyway, and it was great to see a large array of participating young artists painting sharing a theme. A slide displaying a woman's moving poem on the same wall stopped me. Empowering, evocative.

Another display that moved me was "Tarp Project," pushing my street heat buttons every which way when I saw it on the opposite wall, on entering Touched by Homelessness, with my beloved, checking out this "First Friday" Santa Cruz event.

Tarp Project includes stories and photos of U.S.American Veterans who have known homelessness. It hit me the way the aids quilt did first time I saw a mere section of that quilt at UCSC. I will need to learn MORE about these people and this Art.

Another wall display reminded me of HSC's logo. A large, flat 'stick house' was configured directly onto the wall. Inside this 'house' there were many small notes, messages from people currently experiencing homelessness, so it was a growing, interactive, display. Perhaps clients from nearby shelter (HSC's Rebele Family Shelter) or from their medical-care recovery program are sharing this moment, too?

The piece I loved most in Touched by Homelessness, I can't really describe. To over-generalize, on a pedestal, an open silver box is presenting some profound enigma. It was the one creation at this show that really fed and roused the poet within me.


I enjoyed this brightly lit collection at HSC, as twilight was turning darker, and it felt like we walked into a Van Gogh cafe scene outside. Actual people conversing and poised to relax under the eaves, smiles in our direction along the driveway and veranda, with a cheerful and focused parking valet helping whoever seems lost to map their way in, out, and around this center (our Welcomer). The gentle little lights climbing diagonally around columns and doorways warmed our exit.

Such deep feelings being stirred, here in this place. This evolving campus feels to me finally like it is growing it's very own viable cultures leaps and bounds. Lately I've noticed organizational signs of growth and harmony at HSC, and this evening I can actually feel its presence with a depth and coherence I haven't experienced here before.

My old brain spins memories comparing it with a time long ago. And I've plenty of long-past memories of the HSC property around twilight, when it first came to belong to our homeless people through the great gift from the City of Santa Cruz and Page Smith and Paul Lee.

Before the City's interest in that spot at Coral Street and Highway 9, the corner property had belonged to UCSC and then to California Highway Patrol. That neighborhood around Harvey West Park, and the Homeless Services Center, have matured in numerous ways since then!

I remember once working at the Coral Sreet property, with Page Smith, his daughter Ellen, and Linda Edwards; facing and focusing on a need for client care policies to get articulated into plain English.

Years before that, though, I remember meeting "The Back 40" folks. From empty field it became overnight a spontaneous camp which, perhaps predictably, grew pretty quickly beyond its initial organizers' capacity to maintain peace and safety. And then the complex Title Issues on the Coral Street property finally got resolved! Of course, the physical parcel of land had in some ways been long neglected the way railroad tracks get ignored! But people camping in the fields -- mostly locals I felt, and some travellers -- quickly brought the city's attention to focus.


Then an amazing demonstration of street heat fundraising, directly engaging the larger community, helped to better inform neighbors, homeowners, service groups and, well, everyone, about what was planned for Coral Street just off Highway One.

And their ambitious goal, considering their fiscal tool consisted of a coffee can, was to bring in unrestricted means for she,tee and services, at the very beginning.

I remember hearing Volunteer Center's Karen Delaney describing how rarely that model succeeds. Paul Lee was working side by side with men and women who happened to be homeless! I think I saw Darrell Darling helping, too? And local merchants were among the earliest donors.

Volunteers were coming from many backgrounds and classes and mixed motives, it seemed. Passers-by often got drawn into volunteering, too. All this on a Pacific Garden Mall sidewalk, near the pre-quake Bookshop Santa Cruz, Town Clock and Post Office. Somehow helpers kept that bold ironing board (as table) staffed seven or eight hours most days, over a long time.

These memories keep unfurling! Now I am remembering less than a week before the Earthquake, when I was dining outside with about 20 Veterans, a few wheelchair bound folks, and my youngest papoose: newly sprouted, Calamity Jane's Kitchen six evenings, plus Felix and New Life Center's hot meal one night a week.


Calamity's Cupboard was a grassroots dinner service created by Jane Imler, with then Councilmember Don Lane's technical help, it was legit. And myself in the middle of that challenging but creative moment! I felt like a real Shuttle Diplomat for a minute!

The dinner scene began long before City's builders began there, and continued until its offspring, later in Karen Gillette's care, was able to feed people a little bit more permanently.

I believe these meals were the first community-building enterprise at Homeless Services Center's beginnings since the property had become dedicated to our displaced folks.

Picnic tables stood on a floor of fresh straw on the ground, close to where HSC's Transitional Shelter modulars later were planted. The City provided big dumpsters.

Veterans who were homeless back then helped Imler abundantly and loyally with much heavy lifting, keeping straw fresh and dry all winter, and rigging the blue tarp-roof taut at least daily.

Then a slurry decisions and visioning lead to legal building, zoning, and other 'usurious' bits that make real property real, were put into place. Felt like nearly the whole town was moving toward Citizens Committee for the Homeless plans for a Grand Opening, except some Coral Street business neighbors.

And then there were the activists. In one instance, chaining themselves to bathroom plumbing in the smaller of two buildings the County would come to manage on behalf of people with special needs and medical needs.

I can almost still see the gravel, straw and deep ruts of mud under our careful footsteps coming onto "the Lot," at the beginning. Long before this driveway was paved.

These parking spaces tonight in 2017; that lighted promenade; that attentive caring "actual" person being our living and smiling map; none existed. The warehouse Bays did not have deep-set eaves and porches for a long time, nor even functional doors.

There was not even a single light bulb anywhere along this main driveway off Coral St back then -- nothing there except puddles and an incomplete 5 foot long chunk of chain-link fence that held nothing within nor without itself, it seemed to simply mark the deepest mud hole.


Hopes ran deep for getting this County-run emergency mini shelter opened sooner, as had been promised; instead of "yet another" few weeks delay - that last time it was about a missing stove vent. It would take weeks to get the vent replaced and installed, we were told through the newspaper. Jane and Malu and three others decided to occupy the plumbing. Arrests and court followed, and by then the new shelter/center had opened.

Calamity's Cupboard existed only a few hours each evening, but I believe it important to remember when collaboration is effectively creating a better future. It's also important is to keep our dreams alive one way or another until a given community or group has a chance to "make it so" with permanent and adequate funding if it is already proven worthy in the grassroots realm.

Jane's meals sometimes were donated from local restaurants and pizza places. She did ninety percent of the pick-ups, herself, despite being 'disabled.' Her dinner program, with the aid of homeless folks themselves, helped pave a pathway for Citizens Committee for the Homeless to become active site manager more smoothly despite some dominant anti-poor and anti-homeless values at times.

I was a mere witness that opening day at Calamity's Cupboard. Subsequently I've had chances to work with each HSC/CCH/etc director who has helped anchor and define this special place.

Twice in the past I have formally volunteered there. In recent years, though, I seldom get there unless to attend important (to me) culture generating functions like the yearly Reading of Names, or for this Touched by Homelessness art event.

I have my own trippy perspective -- part activist, part witness-chronicler, part mama -- that makes HSC campus really very special to me. I long for Santa Cruzans to feel proud we could do all if this, as we face morphing and growing homelessness as Federal budget policy.

I feel this County needs more Centers with the ever-evolving scope of work and diversity of services and skills I see now at HSC. Because our people need chances to weave an effective healing network capable of un-criminalizing, understanding, valuing, and generally helping create work, diversify housing, and build other safer opportunities for people getting displaced from U.S.America's fading middle class.

Not to mention a bit of safe and appropriate shelter.


Politically, siting Homeless Services Center where it is -- relative to the body politic -- feels like building one's only recovery center on a fault line.

How do you think being in there feels for a human being looking for a safe moment or a way to survive while the loudest and most insecure people in town rave about your illegitimacy, projecting their ignorance and fear, calling you names you have no context for?

Imagine you were living outside our civilization - the staffer you checked in with today might be the ONLY sign of human validation you'll encounter.

Our Homeless Service Center has long survived as a kind of lightening rod for our people's social conscience and cultural conflicts. Like some -- not all -- homeless folks themselves, HSC has been often assaulted by hateful or frightened people, and at times, it has been shortchanged and literally jerked around by the City of Santa Cruz.

At great sacrifice to employees, volunteers and clients there, HSC has historically had to channel off the electrical charge that's clearly more intense than our local human capacity to transform and use it. We, as humans, as neighbors and as former neighbors can evolve a bit: we don't need to blame the victim any more. We can help hurting people recover AND morph our social systems into more equitable, less gas-dependent, less toxic methods.

We can choose compassion.

Feels to me like HSC is now showing us their capacity for facing rationally impossible challenges and landing feet down, heads up. And, I believe, maybe, moving toward more community-based miracles.

They are building much better helping systems for clients; and employees and volunteers I've met are busily creating pathways at HSC to help people who need it, including very poor, stressed out folks. And now, we the People need to get on with a similar goal. We can all help.

And then we can begin to restore and upgrade broader public access, public systems, public resources, so that in Santa Cruz County, the "rest of" the people are always included in our social architecture. Because the way things have been going down lately, just being a pedestrian can get you killed.

# # # # Lemaster
Listed below are the latest comments about this post.
These comments are submitted anonymously by website visitors.
Apparently no overlap between HSC and MHCAN boardNigel SelfSunday Jan 14th, 2018 5:11 PM
Consolidated ServicesLinda LemasterSunday Jan 14th, 2018 2:58 AM
There IS NO "Homeless Service Center"Razer RayFriday Jan 5th, 2018 1:32 PM
Seductive Hope Doesn't Alter Ongoing RealitiesRobert NorseThursday Dec 28th, 2017 9:28 AM
Let's disagree but still BOTH keep on influencing the HSC?Linda LemasterWednesday Dec 13th, 2017 3:14 PM
HSC clients hate itJohn Cohen-ColbyMonday Dec 11th, 2017 1:26 AM
High Praise from someone who knowsMatt GuerrieriSaturday Dec 9th, 2017 9:04 AM

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