Our city was one of the first in California to pass a law making it illegal to sit near a building. Santa Cruzans were appalled and initiated a massive protest in which community members were arrested by the dozens downtown. It became apparent that this law was unenforceable, and the courts claimed that the laws allowed too much flexibility for the police to collectively harass people. A new law passed, making it illegal to sit within six feet of a building, which over time expanded to a 14 feet limit.
People who are houseless are often painted with a broad-brush stroke, leading to poor public policy. The Santa Cruz Homeless Census and Survey for 2013 released this October reveals an unsettling rise in the amount of people who are houseless. While in 2009 it was recorded that there are 2,265 people who are houseless living in the city, this year that number jumped to a recorded 3,536 people.
Claudia Brown, president of the Homeless Service Center — which offers the most complete set of services at one place in Santa Cruz — says the center is always maxed out at any given day. She said that families that are houseless, youth and veterans are on the rise, and that close to 10 percent of people who are houseless in Santa Cruz are temporarily housed. According to Brown the money the city has allotted to the organization has decreased by 25 percent over the past five years.
As a city, we spend a vast amount of money on those who are houseless in terms of our policing, hospitals, emergency rooms, and jails — we’re spending money on the community, but not in a way that gets them out of their houseless status. Studies have revealed that for each dollar a city invests in treatment programs, they will save five to seven dollars in criminal justice fees alone.
According to the 2013 census, 55 percent of our community who are houseless suffers from a mental illness, which decreases their ability to independently reintegrate themselves by getting jobs and housing.
The Santa Cruz Sanctuary Camp, spearheaded by local high school science teacher Stacy Falls and documentary filmmaker Brent Adams, is a constructive step in the right direction for assimilating our community who is houseless back into the workforce.
Contrary to a popular opinion, a majority of 72 percent of people who are houseless were living in Santa Cruz when they became houseless — as members of our community, they deserve a second chance, and we can afford to help those who truly desire reintegration.
According to the 2013 census, 33 percent of our community who are houseless became houseless after losing their job, 18 percent could not afford rent, 12 percent were evicted, 10 percent for mental health reasons and 16 percent for alcohol or drug use. We should not turn a blind eye to these individuals who seek our aid, especially when we are punishing people for sitting and sleeping in areas when they have no place to go.
We cannot continue to wield this double-edged sword where we punish people without a possibility for support. Eleven percent of people who are houseless are US veterans and it is disgraceful that political leaders turn their cheeks and shun the individuals who have risked their lives for this very country.
The creation of this camp — where housing will be awarded to fifty people — will help people who are houseless find and keep jobs. It will also help those in need of assistance with mental health and addiction issues, among other obstacles standing in their way of reintegration.
City on a Hill Press commends Falls and Adams for pursuing this project. We are only as strong as our weakest link, so why can’t our city help pave the way in dissolving our nation’s houseless crisis through reintegration programs such as these? Thirty-seven percent of our community who are houseless in Santa Cruz are younger than twenty-five. These are potential doctors, lawyers, scientists, or teachers — we’re discarding our future by treating our community who is houseless as a problem that has to be amputated rather than healed.