Gary Curry is all too familiar with ordinance 2014-12, or the “Stay Away” ordinance — $7,000-in-tickets-for-sleeping-citations familiar. To pay off the fines, Curry worked 12 hour shifts, then panhandled afterward to make enough money to eat. The Franchise Tax Board once withdrew $800 from Curry’s bank account to collect the fees he didn’t have the means to pay off.
“[The ordinance] has affected me when it comes to providing myself with a safe place to sleep,” Curry said. “It has affected me where I can’t feed myself. It has affected all areas of my life as a houseless man.”
Around 100 people attended the Jan. 13 Santa Cruz City Council meeting including Take Back Santa Cruz, organizers of Homeless United for Friendship and Freedom and individuals affected by the ordinance. In the meeting, the council voted 6-to-1 to approve an amendment to increase penalties with each violation.
Proponents of the measure said the amendment will combat the decline of residents using parks and recreational programs. While proponents say the ordinance is a criminal issue, not a matter of houseless people sleeping, 70 percent of citations are nonviolent offenses and constitute camping, smoking, sleeping and being in the park after dark.
“I don’t feel like scrutinizing people for being financially unstable is a positive way to fix the situation. People who use drugs and people who are destroying the community should be reprimanded, but I don’t think we should blame it completely or solely on the homeless,” Curry said.
The “Stay Away” ordinance went into effect in May 2013 and permitted city authorities to dismiss individuals from parks for 24 hours. Council member Micah Posner said parks department officials proposed the amendment because they are frustrated with residents complaining about houseless people sleeping in the parks.
Repeat violators of the ordinance are now subject to longer periods of banishment from public parks and beaches. The fifth citation will result in a person banned from the park for a year, in addition to misdemeanor charges and possible jail time.
According to a 2013 city census, there are an estimated 3,536 individuals experiencing houselessness in Santa Cruz — 72 percent of whom were Santa Cruz residents before losing their housing. With limited amount of beds in shelters and extensive lists for emergency housing, Santa Cruz doesn’t have enough services to provide for the mass of people living outdoors — a total of 2,895 people remain without shelter.
Posner proposed omitting sleeping as a violation of the ordinance.
“Ultimately, where else are these people to go?” Posner said.
Six council members rejected Posner’s proposal.
Posner is not the only member of his family to advocate for an alternative solution. His father, Rabbi Philip Posner, a former freedom rider, is spearheading a petition for a Camp of Last Resort as an interim solution. Recognizing that the council is far from permitting the Sanctuary Village organized by Brent Adams and Stacey Falls, Rabbi Posner proposed a nonpermanent camp.
The proposal is to work in cooperation with the city and the parks and recreation department to establish a six-month trial of parks being open for the houseless to sleep at night.
“It is unethical for [City Council] to pass these kinds of ordinances and not have a place for people to sleep,” Rabbi Posner said.