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Indybay Feature
Correcting the Sentinel's Latest Errors
by Robert Norse & Keith McHenry (rnorse3 [at]
Sunday Apr 5th, 2020 3:41 PM
Food Not Bombs activist Keith McHenry corrects errors, omissions, and distoertions in Sentinel writer Jessica York's recent story "Santa Cruz County launches joint homelessness task force in coronavirus pandemic; Food Not Bombs expands food distribution" (4 PM, April 4th) at .
NOTES BY NORSE: Mills SCPD drove away FNB from the Town Clock, fencing off the area, as well as risking the health of both housed and unhoused community by forcing the Post Office encampment to move. All this in violation of CDC guidelines, and unreported by the ever-myopic and sedulously faithful-to-the-city-misleaders York.

Chief Mills ordered FNB to serve in the Benchlands which is now under water.

Keith is considerably gentler with Jessica, than I've been. She's puffed and soft-pedaled the corrupt and dangerous scam being pulled by City Manager Martin Bernal and his go-to "expert" Susie O'Hara megaphoning her inflated shelter claims as though they were gospel.

Food Not Bombs and the Union of the Homeless staffed the 24-hour-a-day COVID-19 Survival station at the Clock. It provided food and even motel vouchers at a time when city leaders refused to do so (and still do!). In response, Mills' cops drove Food Not Bombs to the San Lorenzo Benchlands from which, as McHenry predicted it was be flooded out. See


Hi Jessica,
You generally do a really great job but "Santa Cruz County Launches Joint Homelessness Task Force in Coronavirus Pandemic" has some information that is not correct.

First: We still cannot get people at risk into hotels even though we are trying.

I have reached out to anyone I could to get my desperate older friends who have major medical issues into a hotel. I received this kind email yesterday from Gine Johnson: "Keith- I am looking into the exact contact your friends need to make to access services that are being set up now. I will get back to you when I hear something. Best, Gine"

I could fill a hotel with people that are older and at risk.

There is NO two week permit for Food Not Bombs but the city did provide a wooden platform trash cans and hand washing station. We are operating under our Memorandum of Understanding and plan to continue feeding people during the pandemic as well as during the Great Depression. Food Not Bombs has been planning our response to a global economic crisis for over a year now. You may remember my September 10, 2019 City Council flyer inviting the public to learn about the City's plans in the event of a global economic crisis. This is why we gathered more 35 pallets of food in the first days of the pandemic.

As you may know we have always done social distancing since the pandemic started in the United States and we had marks on the ground for the hotel voucher distribution on March 23 at the Clock Tower but people were desperate and crowded us. You saw our second night of hotel voucher and witnessed people cooperating.

We never butted heads over large gatherings at the post office or the Town Clock.

We moved to the Town Clock the first Saturday of the pandemic to create social distancing because we did not want a line of people passing the people living at the post office. We also placed 6 foot lines on the side walk first with a magic marker than since the marks came off we used spray paint.

I believe it harmed the community to evict us from the Town Clock to the Benchlands and is not a sound food safety policy. Dr Underwood at the County Department of Public health might agree. It appears that the real concern was the public relations issue for the city. Even though the CDC announced that sweeps of the homeless should not happen during the pandemic the city did just that. Andy Mills stood shoulder to shoulder with his officers for nearly 3 hours watching city workers discard the survival gear of those living next to the post office. Also it would be interesting to see how much money was spent on the Triage Program that resulted in one night at parking lot 17 across from an empty arena. Why all the fences? Does Martin Bernal have a family member that owns the rent- a- fence company?

We were and still are the ones trying to get the City and County to follow food safety guidelines not the other way around. I had to ask Dr Underwood to convince the city to provide a toilet, trash cans, a hand washing station and a hard surface at the Benchlands.

Mills' letter was not correct suggesting the large group was a rally or was our food distribution when it was an unadvertised hotel voucher distribution. An honest reporting of the voucher distribution would have described the desperation and unmet needs of so many in our community. Misinformation is dangerous during a crisis.

I don't want to waste Dr Underwood's time under this emergency but I am sure if you spoke with her she would verify that it was the city that failed to follow sanitary food safety by moving us into the mud at the Benchlands and by failing to service the toilets and hand washing station. If it was not for her wise council to the city we would be grinding food into the mud. Still, sadly those who come to eat this weekend are getting soaked standing in the muddy Benchlands.

As you may know I encouraged to Salvation Army to remove everyone from the Laurel Street Shelter on March 10th worried that placing sixty people on gym mats eight inches apart night after night was not good social distancing. It was not until this Friday night that they moved some people out of Laurel Street. Andy Mills,Staff at the Salvation Army and Dr Underwood can confirm I have been encouraging the City and County to move those people out of such a dangerous condition for weeks. Still the CDC states clearly that Sweeps of the Homeless by the police must be stopped during the pandemic as it spreads the virus. The CDC also say that no one should be placed in a shelter and all unhoused people should instead be placed in a hotel room.

I coordinated the food relief effort in New Orleans and surrounding communities in the aftermath of Katrina providing meals and logistical support in nearly a dozen cities for eight months. The American Red Cross gave out our toll free number 1-800-884-1136 to hundreds of stranded people. I still meet people who tell me that we were the only ones to come to their aid. I also organized one of two large relief programs after Sandy coordinating over 200 volunteers providing food and supplies in Brooklyn and Staten Island. As you may remember we were the only meals for the people of San Francisco for the first three days after the 1989 Earthquake.

I would encourage you to publish a story that corrects the misinformation in this story. To misinform the community during this crisis is dangerous. People are already confused and frightened enough and if City and County officials are not honest, very important health concerns could be ignored. We saw this early on with unhoused people believing Trump's statements on KSCO claiming that COVID-19 was fake.

Thanks for your time.

Keith McHenry

Santa Cruz County launches joint homelessness task force in coronavirus pandemic
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