Glint of Sanity From Homeless Harassers of the Santa Clara Valley Water District?

 NOTES BY NORSE:  San Jose Jungle Survivor and Santa Cruz Freedom Sleeper Robert Aguirre isn’t the only sensible voice in this latest snapshot report from the San Jose area Water Distrct Jaw-a-Thon.   The obvious solution of providing trash pick-up services rather than destructive camp dismantling actions is hard for the NIMBY (Not-in-my-back-yard) mentality to grok.  The even more obvious financial assessment that would likely show the economic futility and stupidity of these raids is hopefully on the horizon.  This kind of assessment in cities regarding police and emergency services for “disappearing” the homeless, had led–on paper at least–to Smart Solutions, 220-220, Housing First!, and Downtown Accountability projects. 

                                   Many any of these are inverse creaming projects–concerned with pandering to merchant apprehensions about visible homeless and “the worst offenders” rather than the needs of those outside and the real problems of the whole community.  Meanwhile Santa Cruz remains mired in a toxic status quo or lurches backwards.  Both pilot 24-hour bathroom projects are now closed (one never opened, sabotaged by the staff, the other–at the Soquel Avenue garage–closed December 23rd).
     Instead of open meetings with the homeless and activist community, Councilmembers Lane and Posner have repeatedy postponed their limited proposal to eliminate the word “sleep” from the camping ordinance, and now suggest after early promises there’d be action in September of last year, then in December, then in January, then in February–the new target is a Council meeting in March.   The Council majority in Santa Cruz has pressed on with its Take-Back-Santa-Cruz initiated anti-homeless agenda to ramp up criminalization of RV parking everywhere in the city at night, and eliminate parking spaces generally–which disproportionately impacts poor folks whose housing is their vehicle.   Quiet meetings with even more hostile Council members are slated for this week, to which the public, of course, much less the activists, are not invited.


New take on creekside encampments

Water district to explore housing homeless, rather than rousting them

by Kevin Forestieri / Mountain View Voice

Trash left over after a encampment cleanup by the Santa Clara Valley Water District. Photo courtesy of the Santa Clara Valley Water district.


Santa Clara Valley Water District board members agreed to sign onto a county-wide effort to reduce homelessness in Santa Clara County, which could include housing homeless people on district-owned land.


The regional water district may seem like an unlikely ally in the effort to shore up housing for the roughly 6,500 homeless people in the county. But encampments and trash pile-ups along several creeks and waterways have posed a chronic health and safety problem that drains the water district’s resources, officials say.

Over the last four years, the water district has cranked up efforts to dismantle homeless camps along waterways through its cleanup program. In the 2015 fiscal year, water district staff collected 1,209 tons of trash from encampments, more than the last two years combined. Costs for cleanup over the last three years has totaled nearly $2.7 million, which has been funded by the district’s 2012 Measure B parcel tax.

The decision by board members to work with county officials and housing agencies like Destination: Home could mark a big change of pace for the district, which has been focused on tearing down creekside encampments rather than on providing homeless services. This has resulted in an adversarial relationship between district staff and the homeless people living on water district property.

At the Jan. 26 board meeting, Liz Bettencourt, president of one of the district’s three employee associations, said conditions along the creeks have “deteriorated at a crazy rampant rate,” and the threat of violence employees face when cleaning out homeless encampments is a big concern. Bettencourt urged the board to consider added safety measures for district staff, including bullet-proof vests and assistance from the county sheriff’s office, during clean-up operations.

Robert Aguirre, who is no longer homeless but who used to live in the infamous “Jungle” encampment in San Jose, said the water district has largely done a bad job working with the creekside homeless population. When district staff come in to clean out encampments, Aguirre said there’s no opportunity for the homeless to separate their belongings, and that one person had a backpack physically taken off by a district staff member and thrown into a trash compactor.

“If you continue harassing the people who are homeless, they are going to continue to harass you back,” Aguirre said, in response to Bettencourt’s comments.

Despite the feelings of animosity, Aguirre said homeless people are willing to work with water district staff to keep the area clean, provided they’re given the opportunity. The problem, he said, is that there’s no trash pickup service when you live on the creeks, and naturally the garbage and refuse is going to build up.

“If people didn’t pick up trash in your neighborhood, it would start to accumulate and it would start to become a health hazard as well,” Aguirre said.

The encampment cleanup policies also have flaws that keep county waterways covered in trash. Richard McMurtry, a member of the Santa Clara County Creek Coalition, showed the board photo after photo of heaps of trash left by district staff immediately following an encampment cleanup. That’s because the cleanup program is intended to dismantle encampments, and any trash more than 30 feet from tent sites is left on the ground, McMurtry wrote in a letter to the board.

And taking down encampments doesn’t prevent homeless people from taking up residence along the creeks either, McMurtry said. If anything, he said, homeless people are simply uprooted and pushed to a new location along the same creek.

“There are many homeless who, despite having their sites being dismantled 10 times in the past two years, are still living within 200 yards of their original campsite,” McMurtry wrote to the board.

Moria Merriweather, a resident near Coyote Creek, said taking down encampments doesn’t really work, and that the district should be focused on providing toilets, trash collection and other sanitary services. Taking these steps, she said, will help to avoid the bacterial outbreaks, disease and trash build-up that are all too predictable as people live along the creeks.

A housing solution

The board agreed last week to put together a committee and find out what the water district can do, working with county officials, to better provide homes and services for the homeless in Santa Clara County. The move comes after the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution last month calling on local agencies to do their part and reduce homelessness in the county.

The water district does have authority to support housing initiatives, including the use of district-owned land for temporary or permanent housing for homeless people, according to board member Gary Kremen, who represents North County cities including Mountain View and Palo Alto. He said using the district’s resources to build housing will be a much more cost-effective solution to homelessness along the county’s waterways.

“We need to house these people. That’s the best return on investment,” Kremen said.

Board member Tony Estremera agreed that a committee could give water district officials a good idea of what options are on the table for helping to reduce homelessness, and that it’s time for the water district to acknowledge that the high cost of living is forcing people to live along county creeks.

“I know in the past that our attitude has been, ‘We don’t want to attract folks (and) we don’t want to make it easy to camp,'” Estremera said. “However, we don’t have a choice about this economy, so we need to take a look at that.”

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9:30 AM Sunday 2-7: Flashback Shows from April 1999 on Free Radio Santa Cruz: the Rotkin-Silva Sleeping Ban Debate

Tomorrow at 9:30 AM at 101.3 FM, streaming at, and archiving at

The April 8, 1999 show featured a strong debate between former Mayor Mike Rotkin and homeless activist David Silva on the killing the Sleeping Ban.   The next show on April 11, 1999 had Santa Barbara Homeless Coalition writer and organizer Jane Haagstrom discussing the preiously successful Santa Barbara struggle, Edward de Bolt on police mistreatment,  Silva sparring with host Norse, the Biotic Backing Brigade’s pie-ing of Mayor Willie Brown,  and David Silva reviewing his Rotkin debate.

Call-in with comments at 423-4833 which will be mentioned in later broadcasts.

Sacramento Update: Same Crap about “Camping”


NOTE BY NORSE:  Tip of the Hat to Linda Lemaster for posting this Sacramento update on the Freedom Sleepers Facebook page.  Word I got was that Freedom SleepOut #30 continued its small persistent presence on February 2nd in front of City Hall.  Has the formerly 24-hour bathroom at the Soquel St.garage across from New Leaf Market in Santa Cruz been reopened in the wee hours as it was intended to be?   A sympathetic worker said that shelter insufficiency has resulted in folks holding up in the bathrooms at night for protection and privacy–the right reason to establish safe camping zones, sanctuary villages, affordable housing, cheap SRO’s, etc. but not to shut down bathrooms.  Obviously.  Still no apparently public word from former Mayor Don Lane’s “let’s end the embarrassment and remove sleeping from the camping ordinance, but keep it illegal to fall asleep in any park at night and continue the hostile stay-away orders that I voted for 2 years ago”.   I have been down for the count for awhile, but I haven’t heard anything new brewing.

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Debunking five myths about Sacramento’s latest homelessness debate

Our shelters do not have enough beds for everyone, and other necessary facts.


This article was published on .

The homeless protest inched closer to City Hall’s front entrance this past Friday.



With tensions frothing between Sacramento city officials and the local Right to Rest protest movement, SN&R decided to tackle some of the most common—and insulting—misconceptions about the current debate.

Myth No. 1: This is about camping.
      We remember camping: Mom smearing us with mosquito repellant, dad wrestling with tent poles—the city of Sacramento’s “unlawful camping” ordinance has nothing to do with that.
      “This makes it against the law to live outdoors,” explains Paula Lomazzi, a former homeless woman who runs the Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee. “And when there’s not [another] option for everyone, that’s like saying you can’t exist.”
      As written, city code 12.52.030 prohibits camping on any public or private property—so, everywhere—unless it’s for temporary recreation or events. In other words, it’s OK to sleep outside unless that’s your only choice.
      And if it is, be prepared to pay a $1,000 fine and spend six months in jail, because the city has couched its ordinance under the state’s public nuisance law. Violating it is a misdemeanor, which means a criminal record, though most violations are reduced to infractions.
      “Making it a crime to live outside doesn’t keep anyone from living outside,” says Niki Jones of Wind Youth Services, the area’s only service-provider for young people experiencing homelessness. “It just makes it harder to change your situation.”

Myth No. 2: There’s enough shelter to go around.
       Not even close, says Joan Burke, Sacramento Loaves & Fishes’ advocacy director. “The most important fact about the emergency shelter system in Sacramento is that the shelters do not have enough beds for everyone seeking shelter and routinely turn away people for lack of space,” she says by email.
      All totaled, there are 1,033 slots scattered across more than two-dozen shelter or motel programs in Sacramento County, “each with its own intake procedures and target populations,” Burke says. “The process of getting into a shelter is anything but user friendly or efficient.”
By the city’s own low-ball estimate, 2,659 people experience homelessness on any given night in Sacramento County. (There are actually way more, but we’ll get to that later.) That right there shows there aren’t nearly enough beds to go around.
      A Loaves & Fishes survey of 336 guests who arrived for lunch one day revealed that 63 percent of them had slept outside the previous night. The wait-list for Wind’s 12-bed shelter, meanwhile, includes more than 100 people, says development director Sarah Mullins.
      The city likes to wave a 5 percent vacancy rate to prove that there’s still room at the shelters, but that’s fuzzy math of the most disingenuous order. Burke says people sometimes don’t show up at the last minute for reservations. Then there are the homeless people with mental and developmental disabilities, physical ailments or substance addictions (it’s often a cocktail) who Burke says simply can’t function in a communal shelter setting. There are few, if any, crisis-placement options for them.
       “This handful of unfilled beds is what permits the powers that be to proclaim that our shelters have vacancies,” she says.

Myth No. 3: There are “only” 2,659 homeless people in Sacramento.
        That number comes from a biennial tally called the point-in-time, or PIT, survey, and is accepted as the standard when it comes to quantifying how many people experience homelessness on any given night in Sacramento County.
        It’s also a massive understatement, say homeless-service providers.
        First off, PIT surveys occur every two years on a single winter night when homeless residents are even less likely to dwell in heavily trafficked areas due to the weather. They don’t account for anyone who’s couch-surfing, staying in a motel or sleeping in a car. These massive undertakings are also undercut by planning shortcomings and inadequate training, say two service providers who participated in them.
“It was really sloppily done,” says one.
         Yet the city swears by these figures, saying on its website that the PIT survey “is the community’s best way to estimate the number of people experiencing homelessness, including those in certain subpopulations, such as transition-age youth.”
         Worse, we in the media often repeat the PIT figures without qualification, as if they accurately reflect the scope of our housing problem. They don’t.
          To put it in perspective, the 2015 PIT count found 291 homeless youth under the age of 24. But the Wind drop-in center for homeless youth served 918 different individuals from this age group last year. “Youth experiencing homelessness are grossly under reported,” Mullins says.
          Get ready to have your mind blown. According to an analysis of federal enrollment data—which does include couch-surfing and sleeping in cars or motels—the California Homeless Youth Project determined that nearly 12,000 local school children lacked permanent housing during the 2012-13 school year. And that’s just kids.
          Reconnecting this to the camping issue was PS7 elementary school teacher Erica Talbott, who put the matter in stark relief at a recent city council meeting. “I find it absolutely tragic that the students in my classroom … are unable to learn during the day because they are unable to sleep at night, all due to the camping ordinance that’s in place. Because of this law, my 8-year-olds are criminals,” she told council members. “I respectfully ask you where they are supposed to sleep tonight.”
           The council didn’t have an answer. But it’s always been better at counting votes than counting constituents.

Myth No. 4: “Homeless protesters” are the only ones complaining.
       Teachers and labor activists. Medical and nursing students. Religious leaders from Christian, Jewish and Islamic faiths. Members of the LGBTQ community and Black Lives Matter movement. And, yes, homeless residents and activists. This is the rapidly expanding coalition that is demanding the repeal of the city’s anti-camping law.
       What a real fringe group.
       Ever since the occupation outside of City Hall began December 8, 2015, officials have tried to diminish the Right to Rest movement as a small band of agitators who rebuff the city’s attempts to help. But officials are losing that PR battle.
       While homeless protesters do make up a majority of those who have camped on City Hall’s front porch for two months now, the coalition goes beyond those without shelter. California Homeless Youth Project director Shahera Hyatt explains this has as much to do with common interests as it does compassion. “The privatization of public space affects us all. The militarization of our police affects us all,” she says. “It’s just that they’ve felt the effects first.”
       As the Right to Rest coalition has expanded, its opposition has dwindled in size, if not power. At a recent city council meeting, special-education teacher Trina Allen pointed out the disparity in allies, with politicians, cops and connected business interests on one side, and everyone else on the other. Or, as she put it, “basically the people your policies, your police and your ideology currently and have historically subjugated.”

Myth No. 5: Repealing the anti-camping ordinance will increase public defecation.
       Type “Sacramento homeless” into Yahoo’s search engine and the first thing to pop up, thankfully, is “Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee.” But the second result is “Sacramento homeless defecate.”
       Disappointingly, poop has become the central talking point for public officials clinging to their increasingly unpopular policy. At a press conference last month, both Councilman Steve Hansen and Deputy Police Chief Ken Bernard offered variations on this theme. Here’s Hansen: “We can’t allow people to camp in alleys, to urinate and defecate wherever they want.” And Bernard: “We want to solve this problem, but we can’t allow people to camp in alleys, camp on the side of houses, urinate and defecate wherever they want to.”
       This confused us. Does having the legal right to sleep cause someone to lose control of their bowels?
       No, it turns out.
       “They have a demented urge to dehumanize people by painting them as one-dimensional barbarians,” says Omar Sahak, who belongs to a group of UC Davis medical and nursing students that’s joined the Right to Rest coalition. “They could rather think about how to meet basic human biological needs. There is a great prototype toilet already developed for the Tenderloin in S.F.”
       Point taken.
       Hansen and Bernard made what’s called a false equivalency. The city’s argument for keeping the camping ban is riddled with them. Other members of the council, including mayoral candidate Angelique Ashby, keep saying that repealing the ban would somehow mean that they’ve accepted homelessness as the city’s status quo.
       Two points: (1) That ship has already sailed. Thank Oprah’s 2009 visit to Tent City. (2) Decriminalizing people’s ability to sleep outside doesn’t mean the city can’t still pursue the permanent housing solutions it’s outlined. In fact, it’ll have more resources to do so since it will spend less on citing, arresting, booking and jailing people for the crime of making us uncomfortable.
       “We can work on solutions while honoring somebody’s human dignity and allowing them to sleep,” says Wind’s Jones. “People are going to be going to the bathroom either way. What’s going to affect that is whether there are accessible public restrooms, and there aren’t.”
       Case in point: The city recently padlocked public restrooms in city parks and inside of City Hall. It justified the decision on its website by saying the restrooms were being used for illegal activities and had “become filthy.” But that’s misleading. According to a cost analysis document from the city, people were using the restrooms to sleep and bathe.
       The camping law prevents public defecation the same way that the city’s public nudity ban erases genitalia: by pushing the crap out of sight.

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Thursday’s Bathrobespierre’s Broadsides Show Will Continue Flashbacks to 2003 6PM Today


Roxanne Acquistepache and Robert Norse discuss the process by which the Santa Cruz Citizens Police Review Board was quickly strangled and buried, following up on more recent flashbacks to that fateful period.  Roxanne recently died, previously a strong voice for homeless civil rights and fundamental reform in the SCPD.  We also interview Jhond Golder and his ancient struggle with the city officials who twice arrested him as he struggled to get his car back in the fall of 2002.

The show broadcasts at 101.3 FM, streams on the internet at  It will archive at