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Where Do We Go From Here? Addressing Homelessness in Santa Cruz
by Santa Cruz City Councilmember Drew Glover
Sunday Mar 24th, 2019 10:52 AM
A lot has been happening recently in the City of Santa Cruz, California related to homelessness. After years of criminalizing homelessness and constantly shuffling people from place to place, the City has started to look at proven options that help people experiencing homeless receive the services they need as well as permanent supportive housing. Transitional Encampments, safe-sleeping, and safe-parking programs are tactics that have made an impact in North-Western cities like Eugene, Portland, and Seattle. For the first time, these data-supported practices are possible in our community.
These are bold steps because homelessness in Santa Cruz is a real emergency. Naturally, there is some confusion, fear, and uncertainty about this plan and approach - all totally normal in the face of such big changes. I want to take a moment to address some of the misperceptions and real concerns I have heard over the last month with regards to the renewal of the Declaration of Shelter Crisis, the enforcement of laws, the establishment of these new programs, and the impact on our community.

Transitional Encampments and Where We Can Put Them

Transitional Encampments are completely different from the “Ross Camp”. There has been some confusion about this.

I agree with many of you that the Ross Camp’s structure does not work for our community and for those people who live in the camp. There are health concerns, safety concerns, and humanitarian concerns. I can understand why people would be resistant to another “Ross-style Camp” being placed in another part of the City - especially near a park, neighborhood, beach, or school. However, the Transitional Encampments being proposed are completely different than the Ross Camp. Here is a quick breakdown.

The Ross Camp:

* Has no official structure
* Has no official management
* Has no clear set of agreements for those who choose to reside there
* Is not a safe, clean, or dignified shelter
* Provides limited access to services and basic needs like clean water and sanitation
* Has a negative impact on the surrounding area

In contrast, Transitional Encampments:

* Have an official organizational structure
* Are managed by a third-party nonprofit
* Maintain a clear set of agreements for those who choose to reside there
* Meet the fundamental needs of a safe, clean, dignified shelter
* Stabilize physical and mental health by creating community and shared cooking
* Create a sense of pride and ownership with mandatory volunteerism for residents
* Have higher rates of transition to housing and services
* Promote the development of interpersonal skills through friendship and community building
* Have a positive impact on the surrounding area

According to reports, Transitional Encampments have higher rates of transitioning people into services and permanent supportive housing. They have a better record of safety. They develop a sense of community among residents. They do not increase crime or trash in the surrounding area.

NOTE: Transitional Encampments are not the solution to homelessness. But they are a proven tool we can use to start to deal with the problem in a cost-effective, data-driven way.

The Declaration of Shelter Crisis (aka the State of Emergency) and Enforcement

This is where there seems to be the most amount of confusion.

The Declaration of Shelter Crisis DOES NOT stop the public’s involvement in the process.

The City of Santa Cruz declared a Shelter Crisis in January 2018. It is not new. The Declaration was required for the City and the County to be eligible to receive approximately $10,000,000 from the State (which it has) to address the issue of homelessness in the County. This Declaration makes it possible for the City Council to speed up the process of establishing transitional encampments, safe-sleeping zones, and safe-parking areas in places that may not have been zoned for such a use. This is important for two main reasons. First it allows for more creativity and decisive action in where we can provide shelter for people. Second, we cannot enforce our laws until we have the necessary amount of shelter space. You heard me right - it is ILLEGAL for Santa Cruz police officers to enforce certain laws like the Camping Ban unless the City provides shelter options to the people being displaced - and we could be sued if we tried.

Zoning Flexibility

We need to set up shelter space and we need to have done it yesterday. Due to the lack of forward-thinking policy, a lack of initiative from the County, and a long time dedication to the failed “enforcement model” of dealing with the issue of homelessness, our City has a severe shortage of shelter space. That means we have to get creative if we are going to provide care for the people who want it and enforce the laws meant to keep people safe. The Declaration of Shelter Crisis is a tool that will help us do that. We don’t want to setup camps at schools, or in neighborhoods, but we do need to start looking at vacant lots and green space. For every new proposed location, the City Council will hear from the public about their thoughts, concerns, and alternative ideas. Your perspective is important and there is space for you to express it.

Site Locations in the City of Santa Cruz (RE: Depot Park)

I appreciate City Staff for moving quickly through this process of identifying potential locations within the City where transitional encampments and safe sleeping zones might be established. I know that they have been working full-throttle to get these programs established as quickly as possible and they should be commended for their work. Unfortunately, the locations that were presented to the City Council were less than ideal.

The current site slated for a safe-sleeping zone (Lot 24) near Depot Park is not the best choice. I do not believe it will be an effective site for a safe sleeping zone OR transitional encampment.

I have identified three other potential locations in areas that are less dense with greater distance from City schools and neighborhoods, and are closer to the services at the Homeless Services Center. The three locations are:

* 115 DuBois St. in the vacant lot
* Pogonip (by the old polo clubhouse)
* Harvey West Park in Friendship Garden

Any of these three sites would be superior to the currently proposed Lot 24.

Why can’t we just close down the Ross Camp and keep people from sleeping in Santa Cruz?

Do you know about the Martin v. Boise decision from the 9th District Court of Appeals? It is kind of new, so if you haven’t been following closely it can be easy to overlook.

I get many emails from folks demanding that we enforce our camping ban and other policies that “move people along” or keep them from occupying public spaces to sleep. However, the Courts have ruled that if the City does not have enough shelter space to offer, we CANNOT enforce laws that prohibit sleeping in public places. That means that the only way we can effectively close the Ross Camp is if we open up enough shelter options for around 100-150 people. If we open up 100-150 shelter spaces, then we can LEGALLY close the Ross Camp. Right now we are far from that number. Just as important to acknowledge is that even after closing the Ross Camp, we will need to have enough shelter space for the approximate 800 other people who are unsheltered in the City before we can legally enforce sweeping, city-wide regulation on sleeping outside.

The County Needs to Step Up

According to the 2017 count, there are around 2,200 people experiencing homelessness in Santa Cruz County. Out of those 2,200 around 930 of them are in the City of Santa Cruz. We need the County to step up and shoulder some of this responsibility. It is physically impossible for the City of Santa Cruz to shelter almost half of the entire population of people experiencing homelessness in the County. We must hold the County to a responsible level of support by encouraging them to open shelter space in the parts of Santa Cruz County that are less dense and more open. The County Fairgrounds, the Drive-In, and many other locations could be used effectively for transitional encampments and safe sleeping areas.

We Need to Work Together

We all have something to contribute to addressing the issue of homelessness. Whether it is sharing an idea, volunteering to support a program, or just being open to trying new models of shelter, we all can play a part. I hope that through this process we can grow stronger as a community and work together to address the issue of homelessness and the impact it has on our community.

This article is a repost of the original. To view the embedded links in the original article, please see:
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City versus County must stop!Linda Ellen LemasterSunday Mar 24th, 2019 2:52 PM

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