Accessible and affordable housing has been a major problem in Santa Cruz for almost a decade. Yet, City Council has failed to create any policy that provides real solutions for the houseless community. The city has repeatedly torn down and swept housing encampments, which has painstakingly prevented houseless residents from settling in what many see as their home.
In its latest failed attempt to address the situation, the Santa Cruz City Council passed the Temporary Outdoor Living Ordinance (TOLO) last month, banning houseless encampments from numerous locations including beaches, wildlife reserves, and most of the downtown area.
Since it was passed, the ordinance is going through an amendment process, including the establishment of areas where the houseless community is not allowed. The council will cast two votes on April 13 and April 27 on the problematic ordinance, and residents are currently taking the opportunity to express their opposition to the proposed amendments.
Last Sunday, about 100 people crowded in front of Day’s Market, donning shirts that read “Santa Cruz is not a homeless sanctuary,” to express their disapproval of the city’s recent move to conditionally allow houseless camping in a small portion of the Seabright neighborhood. While complaining about houseless residents potentially disrupting their neighborhood if moved there, many attendees at the rally failed to acknowledge the direct harmful impact that the new order has on the houseless community.
Mayor Donna Meyers attended the rally to listen to the complaints of the Seabright residents, and is a proponent of the neighborhood being added to the long list of prohibited locations for houseless people to reside in.
Even in permitted camping zones, houseless residents are required to pack up their belongings within an hour after sunrise and not rest in approved places again until after sundown. For those living on the streets of Santa Cruz, this means they could not stop in any spot for 12 hours a day. TOLO dehumanizes houseless residents, preventing any possibility of comfort and normalcy.
TOLO offers no place in the Santa Cruz community for houseless residents. Santa Cruz must include the houseless in discussions about its future plans for housing encampments and repeal the controversial law.
The ordinance is supposed to provide modification to Chapter 6.36 of the Santa Cruz Municipal Code, which declares campsites in the city a “public nuisance.” According to this chapter, setting up bedding and a campsite at any time of day and sleeping at night in almost anywhere in Santa Cruz any can lead to a $20 citation after a first warning.
A study by the National Institute of Health found that most crimes that occur in areas of dense houseless populations are nonviolent. However, this fact does not abade many of the stereotypes that surround houselessness.
TOLO contributes to the stigmatization of houseless residents through the criminalization of houselessness. Frequently relocating and policing houseless residents is not a solution to the housing crisis. Rather, the city should be looking at ways to create transitional and affordable housing to address the issue at its root cause.
Most crimes associated with houselessness are minor offenses, such as trespassing or panhandling. While a misdemeanor crime may seem trivial, it can hold lifelong consequences and take away opportunities. Misdemeanors can affect people’s ability to pursue a higher education, rent housing, and can also lead to deportation if they are not a U.S. citizen.
With the passage of TOLO, the City Council and the Seabright community are criminalizing houselessness to push away what they see as a nuisance from the sights of their beach houses.
Residents who have jobs and housing in Seabright are annoyed about the houseless community possibly occupying an insignificant portion of their neighborhood. However, they don’t have to use bubble wrap blankets or styrofoam pillows to sleep on cold, hard concrete, or wake up at sunrise everyday to pack their belongings and search for another place to sleep the next night. Their lives are not a constant topic of debate in City Council. They are not criminalized by their own community.
Santa Cruz needs to listen to the houseless people, as they failed to do so in the passing of TOLO and countless ordinances before it, and instead direct its energy toward real, transformative change to support the houseless community.