Permanent Camp for the Houseless Proposed

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High school teacher Stacy Falls and filmmaker Brent Adams are working together to create an alternative solution for houselessness in Santa Cruz. However, before they can establish their vision for a permanent campground for up to 50 houseless people, Adams and Falls must gain support from the community and its leaders.

The camp, called Santa Cruz Sanctuary Camp, would provide individuals who are houseless with shelter and stability. It is conceptualized as a place for people to sleep and store their belongings, which would allow them to focus their energy on rehabilitation.

“They will be able to find and keep jobs more easily,” said plan co-author Brent Adams. “Their mental health issues will be easier to communicate. Addiction issues will be easier to address. We believe it will help every aspect of our community if we allow people a safe place to sleep.”

The houseless camp team already persuaded 1,000 Santa Cruz citizens to sign a petition in favor of the project, Adams said. However, it’s sometimes difficult for residents who pay to live in Santa Cruz to support projects giving free shelter. Santa Cruz Sanctuary Camp would try to change this perspective.

Details about the camp are laid out in a proposal draft by Adams and Falls. The draft lists a set of rules for the sanctuary such as no violence, no alcohol or drugs, enforced quiet hours and no theft. Certain details, such as a location, have yet to be determined.

“It’s a conversation — that’s what we are in the midst of right now,” Adams said. “The biggest obstacle — it seems crazy to me — is allowing people to be in a safe place. This seems really challenging to some people.”

Some community leaders and houseless activists refer to the project as a “conversation” rather than a running operation, and are hesitant to support it without further action.

“I’m not actually sure I support it, but I definitely support the conversation about it,” councilman Micah Posner said. “I’m really excited about the idea … I hope everyone really takes it seriously.”

One thing these community members can agree on is the city needs to discuss solutions for houselessness in Santa Cruz, and many suggest the overall perception of houselessness needs to change.

“We can’t sit down on the curb to tie our shoes, feed our dogs, or anything without being told to ‘move along’ after two minutes,” said local houseless woman Sherry Edwards. “So yeah, I’d like a place to stay.”

Posner said one problem is people are constantly being shifted around Santa Cruz without ever finding a permanent place to rest.

“A lot of people say, ‘Why don’t [houseless individuals] just go away, or why don’t they go somewhere else?’” Posner said. “Which is in my mind very useless and in fact, counterproductive.”

Advocates of the camp say the shelter would help people who are houseless work through other problems. If the city eliminates the distraction of finding a place to sleep, people can begin to integrate themselves into society, Adams said.

An alternative program is Smart Solutions of the United Way of Santa Cruz County, which provides permanent housing as well as rehabilitating services, said Smart Solutions to Homelessness leadership council member Gary Merrill.

An idea proposed by Smart Solutions is the 180/180 program, which seeks to entirely reconstruct the lives of people who are houseless.

“Through interviews of people who are homeless and service providers, we’ve identified those most at risk of, frankly, dying on the street, and who are involved in the revolving door of both the public health system and the criminal justice system,” Merrill said.

The goal of the 180/180 program is to provide stable and permanent housing to 180 local “chronically homeless” people, which Smart Solutions defines as long term or repeatedly houseless people who suffer from any sort of injury, according to the Smart Solutions website.

Posner said while the 180/180 program involves additional workers and finances, he supports the project because it causes dramatic changes in the lives of people who are houseless.

Santa Cruz Sanctuary Camp proposal co-author Brent Adams dismisses housing programs like these as “unwieldy” and “financially top heavy” when faced with obstacles such as funding and public support.

Permanent houseless camps, as opposed to the 180/180 program, are the most practical solution, Adams said.

“It’s the most logical, low-cost and highly effective thing,” Adams said. “We’re looking at a different model which is almost no money at all — community established, community supported and community organized.”

Although they might support alternative programs, Merrill and Posner appear to be optimistic and receptive toward the Santa Cruz Sanctuary Camp, provided more research is performed.

“We need solutions,” Merrill said. “I think if we could put a pile-up [of research] together and really study the impacts, not just on the lives of the people who are living in this camp, but the lives of surrounding neighbors and the environment, I think it’s worth a try.”