Mayor Lane’s Recent Paper on Homelessness—and a Partial Response from An Activist

 

Mayor Lane’s Latest–and An Activist Response

by Robert Norse (and Don Lane)
Saturday Oct 31st, 2015 1:14 AM

On his facebook page several days ago, Mayor Don Lane posted a lengthy lament regarding homeless services and city abuses against the poor. Though the words “civil rights”, “human rights”, “civil liberties”, and/or “criminalization of the poor” tellingly do not appear). Several activists–we call ourselves Freedom Sleepers–have been sleeping out one night a week suffering klieg lights, security guard surveillance and SCPD citations. Something the Mayor declines to mention I’ve ignored most of Lane’s Lament to focus on proposal #4 below to eliminate the Sleeping and Blanket Bans sections of the Camping Ordinance. I’ve sent my preliminary thoughts to other activists, which I reprint in modified form here. I’ve also sent an e-mail to Lane suggesting that if he ever wants to get specific and reverse the numerous anti-homeless laws he’s voted for, I’d be happy to be helpful. At the request of HUFF members, I’ve sent out inquiries to the other Council members asking if they support Lane’s potential proposal.
WARNING:  Lane’s Lament is Lengthy.  I reprint it all for completeness, and do not challenge or comment on the many dubious “positive achievements” he claims.   I specifically focus on proposed changes that impact the criminalization of those outside, their ability to shelter themselves, and the Winter Shelter Emergency.

To read Lane’s full statement and numerous comments, go to http://www.facebook.com/Don.Lane.SC/posts/1039891709365296?fref=nf

An Open Letter to my colleagues in local government and in the Santa Cruz community about the latest challenges in addressing homelessness…as winter approaches.  (Please consider sharing this with others if you think it worth sharing.)

 

Greetings

 

As I write this letter, the City Council I belong to is about to take up a variety of measures related to homelessness. Some of these items will be discussed this week. Others will presumably be discussed over the next few months. With winter coming soon and this set of issues once again coming to the top of the Santa Cruz community’s agenda, I’d like to outline a framework for looking at these issues and make some specific proposals.

 

But let me begin with a quick report on some good news and some bad news in the field of homelessness in Santa Cruz.

 

First, the good news:

-There are several successful program models that are having a positive impact on both the community and the individuals that had been experiencing homelessness in Santa Cruz. The permanent supportive housing model, which our county began to put into practice many years ago has demonstrated real success. The 180-2020 Project, which built on the early local success with permanent supportive housing, has (in the last 3 years) housed more than 350 individuals that had been chronically homeless on the streets of Santa Cruz County for many years. And a City/County partnership (once called the Downtown Accountability Program and now going by the name PACT) to break the cycle of homelessness, nuisance crime and over-utilization of costly emergency services is showing very good results.

 

-The nationwide “Mayors’ Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness” and the high level of federal funding associated with the effort to house every veteran is bearing real fruit both nationally and locally. The lead agencies for this effort in Santa Cruz – the Veterans Resource Center and the federal Department of Veterans Affairs – are well-funded, well-staffed and are housing local homeless veterans every week.

 

-A public/private/nonprofit partnership worked to create and adopt a forward looking county-wide strategic plan (“All In”) to address homelessness. That plan, which continues and strengthens a positive trend toward approaches to reduce and end homelessness rather than the past practice of relying too much on managing it, was adopted unanimously by every local government jurisdiction in our county.

 

-The County of Santa Cruz recently funded the hiring a high-level staff person to coordinate the countywide homeless services system and to guide implementation of the countywide strategic plan. The County also stepped in with major gap funding to sustain two programs at the Homeless Services Center when HSC experienced a major funding loss. These are part of a very significant trend of County government’s larger commitment to taking on the issue of homelessness. There might have been a time when the City of Santa Cruz could have had some justification for claiming that the County was not meeting its responsibility in taking on the challenge of homelessness. That time has now passed.

 

-The Association of Faith Communities has rebuilt the Interfaith Satellite Shelter Program and it is now serving 15 to 20 individuals per night on a rotating basis at local churches. The program is also doing new work to link participants to a wider range of services and moving more people into long-term housing.

 

-Lastly (in the good news category) the 2015 Homeless Census and Survey showed that our county (and the city of Santa Cruz) had a significant reduction in homeless population. I don’t mind saying that I don’t think that this census is a very precise tool for measuring the numerical level of homelessness but it is widely recognized as a good tool for seeing general trends and the trend on the level of homelessness in Santa Cruz is a good one.

 

 

Now, the not so good news…

 

-In contrast to the good news at the county government level, the City of Santa Cruz has reduced its funding commitment for homelessness programs even as the County has increased its funding substantially. This City reduction was not done to single out homeless services for budget reductions– the cuts came to almost all human services programs. However valid those reasons for this reduction, it is a real problem that the reduction in City funding for homeless services has been significant.

 

-The Daytime Essential Services program at the Homeless Services Center has been severely curtailed due to the loss of key state grant funding. This means hundreds of people without homes have lost regular access to breakfast and dinner meals and to sanitation facilities including restrooms and showers. It also means many people who had a somewhat protected place to spend their days are now passing their days in public spaces and neighborhoods all around the community. I know some people might have imagined that, if day services at HSC were severely restricted or eliminated, that the community problems associated with homelessness would diminish and that many people living on the street would go away from Santa Cruz. The verdict on this idea seems to be in

– and homelessness did not go away. (My judgment on this is based on reports from all over the community suggesting that people who appear to be homeless are still present all over town and the burden placed on the community by extensive homelessness has not diminished significantly.)

 

-The Paul Lee Loft Shelter at HSC also lost substantial funding this year and has adapted to grant funding requirements by changing its role from a short term emergency shelter to a different kind of interim housing program. The Loft Shelter had been the main year-around emergency shelter for adults in the Santa Cruz area and it is no longer a contributor to meeting our short term shelter needs. Despite a fairly widespread misconception, we’ve never had a lot of emergency shelter for adults in the City of Santa Cruz. And now we have even less. No matter how you slice it, during most of the year, there are literally hundreds of adults without an indoor space to sleep at night.

 

-It gets even worse. Because HSC has had to cut so much program and so much staffing, without additional funding, it will not be staffed and equipped to be the operator of north Santa Cruz County’s Winter Shelter Program (at the National Guard Armory in DeLaveaga Park.) HSC will need tens of thousands of dollars of new funding to operate a Winter Shelter Program.

 

-Even if our city and county come up with enough funding to sustain the Winter Shelter Program, when the weather turns bad (as in very heavy El Niño rains) the Winter Shelter will not be sufficient. It can serve about 100 adults. There are several hundred unsheltered individuals in the immediate Santa Cruz area.

-It’s also important to note here what is probably the worst news of all: rental housing costs are skyrocketing. It’s widely agreed that our area is experiencing a housing affordability crisis that is likely worse than any past housing crisis we’ve seen. People, mainly people with jobs, are being priced out of their rental housing situations every day. This suggests that both a potential increase in homelessness could emerge and that it will be more difficult than ever to move local people off of the streets and into housing.

 

- Last but not least in the bad news category: we are continuing to experience tremendous litter and waste disposal problems along with environmental damage as a result of careless actions by people camping in our parks and open spaces. The City has sought to manage this problem by increasing ranger and police interventions and through the issuance of citations– especially camping citations. The number of camping and sleeping citations issued this year has increased tremendously compared to previous years. Yet hundreds of individuals continue to sleep in our parks and open space lands every night. I think we have a failure of policy and practice on multiple levels. a) Our camping enforcement activities are not substantially reducing the number of people sleeping in these public spaces. b) The environmental damage and litter damage persists. c) We have more citations being issued that end up having little deterrent effect while consuming much law enforcement time.

 

Beyond what I’ve categorized as good news and bad news, there is another significant piece of news. The federal government has, in a variety of ways, signaled that it will not provide federal homelessness funding to localities that enforce laws against sleeping outside when those who are sleeping outside have no legal alternative. The feds have also started to intervene in court cases that question local laws that prohibit sleeping in public places for people who have no place else to sleep.

 

The City of Santa Cruz has been able to maneuver through this legal situation in recent years. Several years ago, the City Council worked with the City Attorney to set up a system whereby people who had sought emergency shelter but were turned away for lack of space could have sleeping and camping citations dismissed. This has been less than a perfect system but it least it tried to avoid penalizing people who had made an effort to avoid sleeping outside. Now this model is becoming less functional because there is almost no drop-in emergency shelter in our city. (In the non-winter season — April to November– there are something like 15 to 30 unrestricted emergency shelter beds in Santa Cruz) It has become extraordinarily difficult for any homeless adult to find any emergency shelter. If court rulings continue to hold that penalizing people for sleeping outside when they have no alternative is unconstitutional, Santa Cruz (and hundreds of cities around the country) will no longer be able to enforce this kind of ordinance.

 

A related issue which has surfaced locally, partially in the context of our city council’s consideration of RV parking regulations, is the reality that many people without homes sleep in their vehicles. Courts have begun to wade into this issue, too, and the general trend seems to be that cities might not be able to restrict people from sleeping in their vehicle if their vehicle is in every other way compliant with the law. When Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo tried to ban people without homes from sleeping in vehicles, lawsuits ensued and both cities were required to make some allowance for sleeping in vehicles.

 

So we have quite a tangled web of challenges and circumstances to take on as we wrestle with homelessness.

 

As I mentioned before, our local governments have adopted a strategic plan that I believe provides an excellent road map for how we can successfully reduce homelessness in our county. It’s based on well-tested models that are working elsewhere. These models are now showing success here. But this roadmap was not primarily designed to address some of our most pressing short-term challenges. And, beyond that, the conceptual roadmap is just a plan on our desks unless we take concrete actions and make a real commitment of resources to implement it.

 

 

So… I would like to offer for community discussion a set of proposals that I hope will be considered and then acted upon by the City of Santa Cruz and the Santa Cruz City Council in the coming days and months:

 

1) Commit additional funds in the amount of $31,000 to ensure that the Winter Shelter Program can operate again this year and provide shelter for up to 100 adults throughout what we expect will be a very wet rainy season. I also suggest we indicate a willingness to contribute a modest amount more if there is a weather-based need and a countywide willingness to extend the Winter Shelter program for extra weeks. (The final decision on this second part would occur in February or March.)

 

2) In conjunction with a mid-year budget update and budget adjustment in January, consider an additional allocation of funds to sustain the Paul Lee Loft Shelter through the current fiscal year, allowing that program additional time to seek a state Emergency Solutions Grant in 2016 without closing the loft program. (Allowing that program to close prior to the completion of the 2016 ESG funding cycle would virtually ensure that the program would lose eligibility for ESG funds next year.)

 

3) The County of Santa Cruz has taken steps to create an emergency “warming center” program that will provide the most basic of protections from the rain and cold on nights that are either wet or have near- freezing temperatures. A volunteer organization is working in the Santa Cruz area to implement a similar Warming Center program for this winter season. While I think it is unrealistic for the City to take on providing all of the facilities that might be needed for a “warming center” program, I think we can be one of the partners in this. I propose that the City Council direct our City staff to identify a suitable facility (or facilities) to be used for up to 10 nights of warming center use this winter season at no charge– contingent on the warming center volunteer project identifying other locations/facilities that will commit to sharing in this effort by providing 30 nights of warming center use. (It’s my understanding that the volunteer effort has already identified 20 nights of facility use from private organizations.) Of course, city staff would set reasonable standards for the use of city facilities and the city’s offer of use of these facilities would be withdrawn if those standards are not met.

 

4) Amend the current camping ordinance to remove references to “sleep” and “sleeping” and “covering up with blankets.” I realize that some will argue that this will encourage even more camping in our city…and therefore result in even greater improper waste disposal and environmental damage. This does not have to be the case. Any person that sleeps outside and is also making a mess is committing other violations of city ordinances and this suggested amendment would do nothing to discourage enforcement of those ordinances. In fact, if the city council made it clear that waste problems and environmental damage are a priority for enforcement rather than sleeping, we could actually send the message that we are going to focus on the real impacts of camping rather than on the natural survival activity of sleeping. [Emphasis added]

 

5) I propose that the City Council indicate that the City will seek a partner organization with experience working on homelessness to set up a pilot permit program for local residents living in vehicles (limited to 25 vehicles). City cooperation on this pilot program will be conditioned on a rule that the vehicle of each participant be registered at an address with a Santa Cruz zip code (95060-65). It would also be required that permissible parking locations be away from residences and be dispersed throughout the community and that the partner organization provide outreach services to the program participants. I believe this pilot would best be implemented in conjunction with the RV permitting program under development by city staff under previous city council direction.

 

6) I recommend that the City of Santa Cruz take a neutral and open stance on the question of creating a small, pilot camping area for people unable to access any other form of shelter. Personally, I think this kind of “outdoor shelter” is fraught with likely problems of significant magnitude. Santa Cruz’s earlier attempt at this kind of camping space turned out to provide a place for individuals to prey on the most vulnerable people in need of safe shelter. This does not mean that a genuinely safe and well-managed camping space would not have value—it means that a community organization with proven capacity to manage this kind of project would have to put a complete project plan together (including a legal and workable physical location). I think the City should indicate a willingness to permit such a program but not be partner in operating it.

 

7) Direct our City Manager to include a proposal for City participation in the funding of the County’s Homelessness Coordinator position in the 2016-17 City Budget. (There would not be a formal decision to provide funding in the near future—just a decision to consider this participation in the context of other budget decisions next June.)

 

8) Engage in a process to determine what would be the city’s “fair share” of homeless services in relation to our county and our region. I believe we need to stop making our decisions on these issues based on the unwillingness of some other communities to take on any significant responsibility on this issue. If every community used that standard, we could pretend that it would be justified to do nothing. In light of the fact that hundreds of individuals living on our streets are “locals” by any standard, I believe we need to decide what we are willing to do for those individuals and build our funding commitments around this. It would also create a starting point for inviting our neighboring jurisdictions to do the same.

 

9) Participate with other agencies (public and nonprofit) to evaluate and consider the best use of the facilities located at 115 Coral Street. Changes to HSC’s funding are having an impact not only on their programs but on the programs run by the County Health Department and the River Street Shelter operated by Encompass Community Services. We cannot afford to let any of those facilities to be underused when the need to address homelessness remains so high. The City and the community would be well-served to work with its partners on rethinking the use of those facilities.

 

Of course, others in the community have different proposals and suggestions and I will consider those approaches as others consider mine.

 

When we address an issue as complex, controversial and persistent as homelessness it’s not unusual for there to be some avoidance of one or more elements of the issue—elements that probably fit well under the tag “the elephant in the room.”

 

In Santa Cruz, I believe the biggest “elephant” is the behavior of a handful of high profile homelessness activists. (Note: these are homelessness activists– the most notable among them are not themselves homeless.) Years of boisterous and offensive behavior have caused me to avoid dealing with some aspects of local homelessness issues. I imagine this is also the experience of some other local elected officials. Anyway, I am not proud of my choice to avoid some of these issues. I have allowed what I see as the poisonous behavior of a very small number of people to keep me from taking on some truly important issues.

With this letter, I am trying to move in a new direction: no longer allowing this behavior by others to interfere with my efforts to address difficult aspects of homelessness as a community issue. I hope others in the community will join me in this new approach.

 

I also want to be clear here that I don’t consider my assertion that some of the activists have behaved badly as a rejection of all of the substantive concerns those individuals have raised about local homelessness policy. Just because some of them behave poorly, does not mean all of their ideas or assertions are incorrect.

 

I also want to suggest that there may well be a second elephant: the persistent avoidance by local government of the most difficult QUESTIONS related to homelessness. Here are some of the questions that really must no longer be avoided, especially in light of the Grand Jury’s recent report on homeless services and the emergency shelter crisis:

 

-Where is a person who attended Santa Cruz High 15 years ago and who is now broke and troubled and living on the streets supposed to sleep tonight?

 

-Where will we suggest that each of the several hundred unsheltered individuals in the Santa Cruz area spend the night when it starts raining hard?

 

-What public purpose is served when an unsheltered, impoverished person gets a citation for sleeping outside? Is that kind of citation having any positive impact on the homelessness problem we have?

 

-What is our city’s “fair share” of services? How many emergency shelter beds are appropriate for us to have in a city of our size with our level of homelessness?

 

–And, finally, a couple of specific questions for any official who includes in their response to these kinds of questions: “it is up to some other level of government or some other entity to deal with homelessness.” What do we imagine homeless individuals should do while we wait for those other levels of government to step up? If those other entities are not doing their fair share, who should pay the price for that failure? Should it be those entities and their leaders or should it be the individuals who are struggling to survive without a home or a place of shelter?

 

Lest any reader believe that I am pointing the finger at someone else to deflect from my own responsibility—I will simply say that I am as responsible as anyone in this community for our failure to address our lack of shelter and our over-reliance on law enforcement and the criminal justice system to manage homelessness. I have been a direct participant in many of my City’s decisions on homelessness. I have failed to adequately answer many of the questions I am posing. I’ve come to realize that I am not fulfilling my commitment to compassion and compassionate action if I don’t address these issues more thoroughly and engage others to join in that work with me

 

I encourage others to join me in making a new commitment to address these issues more directly and effectively. I’m looking for new partners in this work. I’m also ready to engage in frank conversations on these issues with people of good will—even if we have disagreements on any particular policy or funding approach. We have so much work left to do.

 

Don

 

[P.S. This is the fourteenth draft of this letter. I apologize for its length. I continue to wish I could communicate on this set of issues more clearly and make every point more completely. However, at some point, I have to say it’s “good enough” to launch what I hope will be fresh discussion and break out of some of the places we've been stuck.]

Top of Form

Bottom of Form

 

MY RESPONSE

Hi, Louise and everyone:

HUFF discussed the Lane facebook posting and Phil’s response as well as that of Abbi, Becky, Pat, and me.

Somewhat against my inclination, Becky moved and HUFF voted to contact each of the Councilmembers to determine their position on Lane’s proposed removal of sections MC 9.36.010a and b from the Camping Ordinance. This should clarify the real division on the Council for the Community and expose the real tensions and real violence–as Martin Luther King might have said.

I’ll be sending off such an e-mail after a few brief comments.

I’m not one to reject partial steps towards restoring basic civil rights to those outside.

However the following needs to be said:

As mentioned before, it appears Lane’s proposed changes in the Sleeping and Blanket Bans are raised in response to potential threats of litigation and funding cutoff (as was the case with Vancouver, WA, and various southern California cities recently). However, merely eliminating “sleeping” and “blankets” provides no immunity from a third and harsher section of the ordinance 6.36.010c citations (“camping with the intent to remain overnight”). Nor from other citations (such as “being in a park after dark” “lying on a bench”, or “lodging on public property”) that serve the same purpose. Most important, it does allow those outside to protect themselves from the weather and danger of sleeping outside with tents, tarps, and other camping equipment. It does however provide the city attorney with possible legal protection from litigation and gives politicians and poverty pimps a claim that Santa Cruz is “doing something” and shouldn’t have its HUD funding cut off.

What could Lane do that would involve real action rather than “compassionate” (and often misleading) rhetoric?

1. As Mayor, he could ask the City Manager and Police Chief to stop ALL citations of those sleeping, covering up with blankets, or camping outside either for those offenses or for “being in a park after closing” (something now frequently used which suspiciously looks like a dodge against potential litigation and liability for 8th Amendment violations). The Council majority might block this–but Lane would have taken a clear position that supporters in the community could unite behind.

2. As Mayor, he could publicly state he could demand the right to be on the City Hall grounds is a basic 1st Amendment protected right. Currently, to discourage protest, the City Manager maintains a nighttime curfew on peaceful protest (or any kind of presence) at City Hall after 10 PM. To respect the current protest, Lane could demand the removal of the klieg lights, the “no parking” jackets that block protest communication, and remove the unnecessary and provocative First Alarm thugs.

3. As Mayor, he could publicly request the City Attorney to amnesty all MC 6.36. and MC 13.04.011 citations for the last two years and request the courts (with whom he’s worked so on such friendly terms for the bogus DAP program) do the same. If he really wanted to restore elementary justice (forget about “compassion”), he could ask for restitution of property stolen from homeless folks by authorities–a regular occurrence in the last decade.

4. As Councilmember who has voted for a series of anti-homeless laws over the last decade, move to remove them from the books. I’ll be happy to elaborate in detail in future days–but they include expanding the forbidden zones downtown where people can sit, perform, peacefully sparechange, or table, making 3 unattended infraction citations the basis for a misdemeanor prosecution, making every subsequent infraction citation after three unpaid ones an actual misdemeanor, criminalizing peacefully standing on a median with a sign, taking issue with a park employee (now a misdemeanor), the cop-empowering Stay-Away order laws.

5. As a Homeless Services (Lack of) Services Center cheerleader, he could move to reform and transform what has now become a prison-like camp. He could demand the HLOSC de facto penal aspects [gate, guards, ID) be dumped. He could demand funds for expanded services for the broader homeless community not just the chosen few on the alleged “path to housing”. That would mean restoring bathroom and regular shower access, meals, laundry use, phone use, and daytime access. He could require the HLOSC dump the bogus grant-seeking “path to housing” requirements of the Paul Lee Loft and return to its supposed original “mission”. Though this was actually set up to lure homeless people away from Food-Not-Bombs style protest meals at the Town Clock in the late 80′s.

6. Introduce a measure to provide dumpsters, portapotties, and regular trash pick-up’s for existing homeless encampments–where most homeless people actually live these days. He could organize privately sponsored refugee-relief–as was done in Fresno after a successful lawsuit there fining the city $2.3 million for its abusive treatment of those outside.

7. Make it clear that the “Magnet” Theory, the “Homeless as Public Safety Threats”, the “Needlemania” mythsteria, and other false but inflammatory pretexts trumpeted over the last few years to frighten and mislead the community. These resulted in the fear-generated passage of many anti-homeless laws. The scare tactics helped fund abusive police/ranger behavior positing a “crime wave” that had no basis in fact. These are the real “elephants in the room” that Lane tactfully ignores, perhaps in deference to reactionary bigots and institutional gentrification power in the community and on the city staff. Nonetheless, he went along with this poisonous mythology. If he’s serious in his confession, he needs to take responsibility for legitimizing this dangerous nonsense that has caused folks outside much suffering.

8. Lane voted for the crap that came out of them (the Citizens Public Safety Task Force for instance) and needs to repudiate those votes and move to reverse the dangerous impacts he’s created (hundreds of phony citations, thousands of harassing police contacts, empowerment of bigotry in the neighborhoods against the poor).

9 It might mean something if during the first torrential rains of El Nino, Lane joins with activists in simply opening up vacant public buildings as survival shelter. All the talk of (“warming center” “sanctuary place” “campground” “tent city” is fine, but an emergency is an emergency. The Civic Auditorium, City Hall Council chambers, Stadium, are all vacant at night. Use them to protect the lives and safety of those he cares so much about.

These are preliminary thoughts, but they’re relevant. Note that Lane’s letter seems to me to be an appeal to rightwingers in the community and on the City Council with his statements that “enforcement hasn’t worked”, “homeless haven’t been driven away”, “it’s too costly” (I paraphrase rather than quote), with no mention of human rights, civil rights, or criminalization.

The issue is not whether Lane’s proposals are better than the Council majority’s bullshit, but whether they are adequate for homeless survival this winter. And for HUFF, whether they have anything to do with the “mandatory minimums” that will really set us on the right path.

For me we wouldn’t be very far along that path which involves real housing, rewarding work, revolutionary shift from war to healing, profound redistribution if power and income, and other rather profound changes.

Lane has his Lengthy Redemption Lament. We have our job to do–which has to do with reality not rhetoric. Let’s get on with it.

R

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