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April Fools Day March to End Homelessness

by Keith McHenry
One of the agenda items at the weekly Food Not Bombs meeting was that morning’s Lookout story “In the Public Interest: A new law-and-order approach to homelessness in Santa Cruz?”
A shirtless friend of ours who lives along Highway 9 spoke on the subject. He was upset that the atmospheric rivers were washing the contents of their pit toilets across parts of the camp of several hundred people. He wanted us to press for portable toilets and garbage collection. The sewage rushing through his campsite had infected his girlfriend with sepsis and he took her to Dominican where they amputated her foot. The hospital sent her back to the camp.

Housing Matters had included me in an invitation to participate in the February 13, 2023 March to End Homelessness Community Coalition Meeting so I logged on. The subject was the April Fools Day March to End Homelessness which would gather at the future site of the city’s gift to the Front Street and Pacific Avenue condominium and retail store projects providing parking with a library and some so called affordable housing. We wouldn’t want the developers to spend money providing their tenants with their own parking. The march ends with what they are calling a festival and will cost between $50,000 and $70,000 to produce.

You may have seen the Housing Matters blue ads for this march on social media. It seems they wanted to save money by cannibalizing the corporate identity they had already paid several hundred thousand dollars to create when they rebranded the Homeless Services Center on Coral Street. I have been helping organize marches for about 50 years and other than the June 12, 1982, March for Nuclear Disarmament that drew over a million people to Central Park in New York I don’t think we have ever spent close to that amount. Generally less than $100 would be enough to bring out nearly 1,000 people if the cause is of public concern.

The presenters on the zoom meeting explained that the purpose of the march was to bring the homeless social services sector together and that they hoped to attract close to 1,000 marchers. I might have been the only person who had been homeless participating in the midday zoom meeting. Not one homeless person attended which is no surprise as people are busy surviving and were not invited to participate.

As Food Not Bombs was about to reach its third year anniversary of being the only daily hot meal for the homeless we receive an email from the city announcing that they would arrest us if we dared to attempt to share food near Garage 10 during the atmospheric rivers.

That morning The Santa Cruz Homeless Union was sent a post from staff at the Depot Park Emergency Shelter angry that the city and county would not let people enter until 8:00 pm forcing the 25 lucky people to stand in the driving wind and rain all day. They claimed they had the staff and resources to do so. We organized a campaign to open not only the Depot Park Shelter for 24 hours a day during the storms but that they should also open the Civic Auditorium. Mayor Fred Keeley’s beloved Warriors Stadium also sat empty. Hundreds of people would be doomed to survive torrents of rain huddled under tarps as trees threatened to crush them.

So in honor of our three years of daily free service to the city they chose to send us a threatening letter promising to arrest us if we did not force those joining us for a hot lunch to stand in blistering winds and driving rain.

Mayor Keeley’s allies are using his chairmanship of the Community Advisory Committee on Homelessness (CACH) to praise his new law and order campaign against the homeless.

Steve McCarty’s letter to the editor states “Keeley spent years working on the CACH so is well aware of these issues and ways to address them. Most of us appreciate his honest assessment of the situation.”

I did attend all but one of those meetings and Steve has no idea of what he is saying. Fred shut down any conversation about the many real solutions we offered and bullied his appointed members. One of two homeless members quit when he was not able to get back into the 1220 River Street camp because the meeting went past closing time. He was left to sleep on the streets in the cold.

In 2019 the Santa Cruz Homeless Union, Food Not Bombs and campers were working with the Fire Department to make a large homeless camp behind Ross safe for its members. At that time there seemed to be a progressive majority on the City Council and it would be possible to delay a proposed eviction of the camp. The one progressive councilperson we needed to make sure voted with the other three was Justin Cummings so we invited him to a meeting at the Saturn Cafe the night before. Saturn had been my “office” when I became homeless after my second back surgery.

We told of the danger that could happen if the camp was closed. Many of the early occupants were women who were seeking protection from the all too common threat of sexual assault.

At the June, 2019, City Council Meeting Justin Cummings voted to evict the camp and as has often been the case during other major votes by the council to harm the homeless they set up the CACH committee. I suggested during public comments that they could save us all a lot of time by whiting out the date on the 2000 report replacing it with 2019 since it was likely to have the same findings and sure enough by the end of the CACH committee their report was essentially the same.

Our dear friend Santa Cruz Union Officer Deseire Quintero moved with many others to the Pogonip. She was helping her neighbors evacuate during the Diablo Winds when a tree fell crushing her to death on October 27, 2018. These are the same woods people were swept to after the Benchlands evictions this winter.

The city appears to have intentionally launched it’s current media campaign by feeding a young reporter new to Santa Cruz their position in the Lookout story “In the Public Interest: A new law-and-order approach to homelessness in Santa Cruz?” I spoke with him twice for that report. He began by asking if the rumor was true that Second Harvest had cut off Food Not Bombs and that we were ending our daily service as a result.

When I explained that we had always intended to return to weekends as soon as the Saint Francis Soup Kitchen and the Senior Meal at London Nelson Community Center started their weekday lunches he said he hadn’t ever heard of the London Nelson Community Center. I said it was the center at Center and Laurel across from the police station but that still didn’t ring a bell.

When he called a second time I asked him how he heard about our being cut off by Second Harvest. He sounded very nervous and said that was confidential. I asked if he knew that City Manager Matt Huffaker was also on the board of Second Harvest and that Matt had been waging a war against the homeless and Food Not Bombs since he was hired. He didn’t respond.

It seemed he was targeted by the city because he was the least informed of any reporters in town.

Just as I suggested to the young man the letters to the editor attacks against the homeless and Food Not Bombs propaganda campaign had started.

Another wave of municipal violence against our homeless neighbors is about to begin. We can expect many more sweeps of homeless camps driving those hundreds struggling along Highway 9 back into the doorways and levee banks of downtown only to face late night police raids.

Another increase in the ticketing, towing and junking of vehicular homes. More unpaid fines to destroy credit histories and more misdemeanor convictions for the crimes of living outside to make sure housing remains out of reach for hundreds of our neighbors.

Fred’s friends in Sacramento are lining up a host of statewide laws to increase the suffering of those tens of thousands who will be forced on to the streets as the economy crashes into what is expected to be as bad or worse than the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Over 25,000 tech workers lost their jobs in February 2023, many of whom were working here in the Bay Area. It would not be surprising if the number of people seeking doorways and river banks in our town will balloon another few thousand in the coming months.

I am sure Fred’s friend Senator John Laird will be voting for SB-31. “This bill would prohibit a person from sitting, lying, sleeping, or storing, using, maintaining, or placing personal property upon any street, sidewalk, or other public right-of-way within 1000 feet of a sensitive area, as defined. The bill would specify that a violation of this prohibition is a public nuisance that can be abated and prevented, as provided.”

My local friends who survived the internment camps of Europe during World War II often share their alarm at what they are witnessing with the hatred towards the homeless. City and County officials have quietly floated the idea that the “shelter resistant” be shipped off to Camp Roberts outside San Miguel.

In meetings with Fred at the Santa Cruz Diner he hinted he supports the plan to solve the bad behavior of the homeless much as former Mayor Donna Myers and former County Supervisor Ryan Coonerty had suggested in their Two By Two meetings. Force those “Useless Eaters” into prison camps.

City of Santa Cruz – 831-420-5010

Mayor Fred Keeley – fkeeley [at]

City Manager Matt Huffaker – mhuffaker [at]

Police Chief Bernie Escalante – bescalante [at]

Santa Cruz Food Not Bombs

PO Box 422 – Santa Cruz, CA 95061 USA

§Santa Cruz Food Not Bombs
by Keith McHenry
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