Santa Cruz continues to ban sleeping in vehicles on ALL public property, and has intensified this life-threatening restriction by banning parking at night on many streets. It has also banned being in one’s vehicle while awake in all downtown city parking lots.
Coming up at City Council tomorrow are new laws that would ban standing on a median or resting on the surface of a roundabout as well as granting police and their para-military pals extraordinary powers to ban people from parks (for 24 hours) without trial or charge once a citation is written for ANYTHING. These ordinances are on the 3 PM agenda at City Hall. You can e-mail the Council to tell them, no thanks, at citycouncil@cityofsantacruz.
Recent attempts by a small group of churches (such as the Red Church–Calvary Episcopal) to create a 2nd Interfaith Satellite Shelter Program with rotating beds at a variety of churches has stalled with only about 20 people being served per night. Considering the population of Santa Cruz has 1500-2000 people who sleep out each night, this, though commendable in intent, is pathetic in consequence. As was the earlier ISSP, which only served 80 people at its highest point about five years ago before it was disbanded because of vehicular (gas and maintenance) costs.
Even more abusive, of course, is the anti-homeless Sleeping Ban ordinance (MC 6.36.010a) which bans all sleeping inside or outside vehicles on any public property (and much private property) anywhere in City Limits. Toleration of this unaddressed Shelter Emergency is, of course, part of the NIMBY wealthy-only perspective of the police, city staff, and complaint city council(s). Ironically it would likely cost far less to establish the health and rest facilities (campgrounds, bathrooms) than to clean up the environmental destruction and to pay for the police and court costs of citing/arresting/trying people for what they have to do every night.
Chanting “it’s illegal, arrest them!” (as the Santa Cruz Neighbors, Take Back Santa Cruz, and other thinly-veiled hate-the-homeless groups do) is both dumb and sadistic as well as being costly. Unfortunately this is not a rational phenomenon, but an issue of prejudice similar to that which enslaved blacks, enforced racial segregation, promulgates racial profiling, and motivates foreign wars. Education, agitation, and organization are needed to combat this–and the power that comes with saying no to this NIMBYism.
Palo Alto activists need to be supported in their fight to retain the right to sleep in vehicles there (now under challenge), and organized sustained protests may be useful here to overturn these corrupt and cruel ordinances.
Smart Idea: Seattle Vehicular Residency Research Project
Mobile Homeless, or as Graham Pruss would have us all say: Vehicular Residency, is the fastest growing demographic of people experiencing homelessness. In Seattle, 30% of unsheltered homeless people live in vehicles, and it’s been that way for nearly a decade.
If you think about it, it’s not hard to see why. The economy is still hurting. When someone loses their job, losing their house or apartment is next. If the person has a vehicle, they will live in that vehicle, often holding down low-income jobs or continuing to look for work. They choose their vehicle for several reasons. For one, many first-time ‘vehicle residents” don’t know how to navigate the social services system, or they are scared to stay in a shelter. (not all, but most shelters are horrible). Plus, their car is their last possession and offers some independence.
Other people will see homelessness coming and jump on Craigslist to buy an RV with what little money they have left. Many cities now have turned into a giant RV campground with RVs parked throughout city streets.
Working with people who are living in a vehicle requires different strategies and outreach models. The good is that many are new to homelessness and are often easier to help back into normal society. The bad is, because they are mobile, they are often harder to locate. Normally, outreach teams that are targeting mobile homelessness start early evenings, when vehicle residents have found a safe place to park for the night. I personally find it challenging to knock on some strange RVs door, so I always try and bring a “gift” to help start conversation. Of course, gas cards work great, but bag lunches and hygiene kits will also work.
Seattle’s Social Media Club invited me to speak, and while here, I thought I would get out and meet some new friends. I was lucky, and now greatly honored, that my very first night here Graham Pruss, project coordinator & research fellow at Seattle University, invited me to join him for a little vehicle resident outreach. Being candid, I was blown away that someone is actually researching vehicular residency. I kept asking a gazillion questions trying to learn everything I could in the short time we had. This short video interview with Graham gives some highlights of their research. I personally was very much interested in the six criteria they came up with to help service workers identify vehicle residents. You can learn more about this important work here and read a report on their latest research here