NOTES BY NORSE: While San Jose activists celebrate victory in the City’s proposed feeding restrictions in city parks, Santa Cruz continues to witness renewed attacks on the homeless community hear masquerading as “Public Safety” issues. The high-profile falsely-hyped “Needle Menace” bullhorned by Take Back Santa Cruz, The Clean Team, Mayor Robinson, and Supervisors Zack Friend and Greg Caput got another round of hysteria humbuggery at the Board of Supervisors today.
A West Side Pharmacy worker testified that it’s mostly middle-class and not homeless folks who purchase needles at her store, indicating that homeless people–the target of the needle exchange removal–aren’t the issue. But eliminating City Needle exchange (done last year) significantly impacts the health of the homeless community–not just needle users there, but those in contact with them, those who are jacketed as disposable “junkies” and, those outside generally who are most vulnerable to the public health threat created by the destruction of Needle Exchange.
Well-organized and angry right-wing drug warriors are now moving with vitriolic fury to eliminate, restrict, or relocate County Needle Exchange.They claim that eliminating needle exchange would eliminate needles though County Health reports twice as many were recovered by the exchange and the two disposal kiosks set up in the county as were distributed by the exchange last year.
The familiar scream of “not in our backyard” is now being raised against Needle Exchange and even safe needle disposal sites. So-called liberal politicians like Supervisor Neal Coonerty (the position of his son, Ryan, who’s running for Supervisor is unknown to me) seem to be bending in the right-wing wind to accept counter-to-fact and counter-to-common-sense demands like segregating and reducing Needle Exchange to pacify paranoia-provokers.
It is true that County Health, the Supers, and City Council have refused to hold meaningful public hearings on neighborhood concerns (something legitimately raised by Take Back Santa Cruz). The wildly exaggerated dangers of needle sticks (compared with nail punctures, or glass cuts, or other foot injuries) as well as the inflated-to-bursting threat of any infection from publicly discarded needles (virtually non-existent with dried blood) continue to be ignored. As county bureaucrats and paranoia-pandering politicians in and out of office continue to treat the ‘community concern’ as if it were justified.
Telling is the failure of both governments to restore Sharps Containers (to safely dispose of used needles) in public areas (such as Louden Nelson Center) and the failure of TBSC activists as well as former needle exchange workers like Steve Pleich to press for restoration of obvious safety measures like safe disposal and the needle-exchange in the City. The vengeful return of Drug War rhetoric is part of a TBSC’s massive anti-homeless campaign which began with its “no loitering” “no panhandling”, “no camping” actions of half a decade ago. Those buying in to the rhetoric of “menace” buy into the campaign by refusing to expose and explode its fantasy base.
Meanwhile in Santa Cruz, Food Not Bombs continues to feed twice a week at the main post office sidewalk downtown and seeks more cooks and workers. Go to http://santacruzfoodnotbombs.
Thanks to everyone for your calls, emails, and petition signatures in response to our notice about the City of San Jose’s attempt to ban feeding the homeless in public parks. As a result of the public uproar, which has been building for a couple of weeks, the Director of Housing informed me late this morning that this item will NOT be on the agenda next week and the special events ordinance will NO LONGER include language forbidding people to feed the homeless.
This is a great victory for compassion, common sense, and the people of San Jose. Apparently the City Councilmembers are reluctant to publicly defend this draconian measure when so many of them are campaigning for Mayor in the June 3 election.
Defeating this repressive ban was the first part. Now we have to re-commit ourselves to fighting for a city and a country that houses its people and meets their basic human needs. San Jose will find its way when it discovers that its true wealth is not in technology corporation bank accounts, but in the heart, mind, and soul of its people, every single one of them.
Feel free to join us at the Jungle at 5:30 pm this Friday, April 18 to feed the homeless and prepare for the Earth Day Clean-Up that has been scheduled there for this Saturday and Sunday, April 19-20. The Jungle is the large encampment at the corner of Senter and Story Road, across the street from Happy Hollow in San Jose.
Mercury News editorial: Homelessness isn’t just a city responsibility
Mercury News Editorial
The pressure is on San Jose to deal with the epidemic of homelessness that’s turning pockets of the city into Third World encampments, polluting waterways and unsettling nearby neighborhoods. The squalid 75-acre camp known as The Jungle near Story Road is said to be the largest of its kind on the continental United States.
But San Jose is not causing or ignoring this problem. Nor is Santa Clara County, whose work with the city on homelessness is one of the best collaborations ever for the two governments.
All cities in Silicon Valley should accept regional responsibility for the poverty growing in our midst. But if there is a single villain to call out, it’s the state of California.
The Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown took away cities’ capacity to build affordable housing when they dismantled redevelopment agencies and failed to replace the housing money. That cost San Jose some $40 million a year it had used to help nonprofits and others build affordable projects.
Despite an explosion of homelessness statewide — California now has 20 percent of the nation’s homeless — Sacramento has turned its back. Or worse. Now the state Fish and Game Department is citing San Jose for the camps’ pollution of rivers. It suggests the homeless should be arrested. Really? What is this, a Les Miserables revival?
National and local leaders know what works: Put people in actual homes and set up the support services they need to function in society. This has been shown time and again to be cheaper in the long run, and Destination Home, the local partnership working toward the goal, does a great job. But there’s no place to house people and no money to build units.
Many of today’s homeless have incomes — low wage jobs, military or disability pensions. Some even have rent vouchers, but market rents are so high, landlords choose not to accept them.
San Jose’s proposal to turn some high vacancy motel rooms into efficiencies for the homeless is a great idea, but it will provide maybe 60 units. The valley needs an infusion of affordable apartments to give Destination Home a chance to do its work.
San Jose Housing Director Leslye Corsiglia, who has been fighting the good fight for decades, says the federal government offers some support, and local cities and the county are exploring the idea of a joint powers authority to pool resources. There’s some federal money available for housing, and local agencies are grabbing as much as they can. The state is the missing player.
Construction cranes over downtown and North San Jose are building hundreds of market rate apartments. But when rents come down, so will the cranes. Builders will never create enough housing to make it cheap here.
The state took away San Jose’s capacity to leverage nonprofit resources for affordable housing. Until it accepts responsibility and gets back in the game, the homeless camps will grow.
Inside San Jose’s Tent City
Photography by Mewal M. Tekleab