The following speech was intended to be given at the Association of Faith Communities – Santa Cruz County Conference on Friday, September 5, 2014. Unfortunately, the community discussion was canceled and the AFC never got to hear HUFF’s suggestion.
First and foremost, we thank you for all of the work you’re already doing to help homeless people and for holding this conference today, dedicating yourselves to addressing the issues of poverty and homelessness in Santa Cruz County. We understand that trying to solve such a complicated and widespread issue is quite a daunting task. With that said, we’d like to offer you a simpler way to look at the matter.
We often make houselessness into a complex issue by focusing on its toughest aspects. We speak of highly vulnerable populations, such as people with disabilities or untreated mental illnesses who live on the streets; people we don’t know how to support properly. We talk about drug addicts and people who have criminal records sleeping in parks and hiding in bushes; so called “threats” to our community. We make pleas on behalf of single mothers and children without roofs over their heads; as we see our own mothers and children reflected in their eyes. We talk about the Recession and the many people forced to leave their homes in the wake of layoffs and the slow recovery of the economy.
But the truth is, all of these kinds of people exist outside of homelessness. You have members of your congregations with learning disabilities and physical handicaps. You have neighbors who have criminal records or who struggle with addiction. There are single mothers living in houses all over the city. And there are plenty of people stuck at home everyday typing up resumes and trying to find work. The only thing that makes homeless people any different from the general population is that they have no space of their own to return to at night.
Taking this into consideration, we at HUFF believe the best course of action to address homelessness in Santa Cruz is to create simple housing. Simple housing is exactly what it sounds like: a roof over your head, something to sleep on, a 24 hour restroom, and a place to shower. We would love to see the faith community come together to create and support an initiative to make 1,000 simple housing units in Santa Cruz County. Given that the 2013 Homeless Census found over 3,000 homeless people in the county, we believe that it is reasonable for us to try to serve at least a third of that population. Once again, all these people need are the basic things most of us take for granted: a roof over our heads, something to sleep on, 24 hour restroom access, and a place to shower.
We ask you for your help as we cannot do this alone. Poverty and homelessness are community issues. It will take the love and care of all of the community to resolve them. As some of the most loving, caring, and knowledgeable folks in town, we turn to you for allyship and support. If you would like to join us in these efforts and continue this dialogue, please come see me after the community talk-back is over. Once again, thank you for providing this opportunity to discuss these matters as a community. My name is Raven Davis and I’ll be here later if you’d like to talk more about HUFF’s proposal for simple housing. Thank you.
HUFF Flyer Distributed at the Event Intended Also as A Speech
Acts Beyond Words Will Create Simple Housing
Speech to the Association of Faith Communities 9-5-14 by Robert Norse
I’m also a member of HUFF. We’re mostly about restoring rights to homeless folks—rapidly disappearing rights. Rights stolen from the poor outside are ultimately stolen from all of us. We are in the midst of a historical period where one right after another, one sanctuary after another, one bench after another, is being removed in a campaign to target homeless people.
Simple housing is the most immediate need. It’s elementary, obvious, and indisputable. Homeless people need simple housing—a place with a roof over the heads a place to sleep, a place to go to the bathroom, and a place to shower. Every night people are harassed and ticketed for falling asleep outside. Their possessions are vulnerable. Their safety, health, and sanity are at risk.
Simple housing isn’t expensive. Not having it is. The City and County give away millions to homeless dispersal programs, for “security” gates and fences, for consultants and developers, for police equipment. Simple housing is what we need. And not tomorrow, but today.
We are living in a time when fear, bigotry, and greed. A time of special privilege. It hides under the labels of “public safety” and “smart solutions”. Those being offered a small amount of temporary housing while billed as “the most vulnerable” are often those who are simply the most visible and the most annoying. The ones who cost the most to businesses seeking tourist dollars. Owners angling for higher property values. Residents anxious for a view unobstructed by a poor family who park their home on a nearby street for a night. Or wait there for a church to open.
The faith community itself and those who seek the small amount of shelter that they are able to provide are under attack Attack from the more privileged and the more fearful. Some in the faith community are reeling under these attacks. The bigots would “end homelessness” by driving homeless people away. A new move to ban nighttime parking around the Circles Church is the latest such attack. When police profile folks near church programs, we sadly see church workers urging the victims not to make waves, not to bring “undue attention” to the churches.
Let’s agree we need immediately 1,000 simple housing units in Santa Cruz County. We obviously need more, but instead of “baby steps” let’s take some real steps. Without unified and determined action, things will only grow worse. Upcoming elections provide gloomy prospects. The real solution—simple housing—is something we must work and fight for. Not just talk about.
Poverty and homelessness are controversial issues that necessarily create tension in the community. We must not flee from that tension or seek to conceal it. Nor beg crumbs from those who condition their funding on denying homeless people basic rights. We need to act.
We must move swiftly to create simple housing: a roof , a bed, a bathroom, & a shower. Make sense? Raise this issue repeatedly with your bodies as well as your voices. Support those who speak up for it and take action to promote it. HUFF meets weekly on Wednesdays 11 to 1 at the Sub Rosa Cafe at 703 Pacific. Or give us a call at 831-423-4833.
This speech is the opinion of Robert Norse and does not necessarily represent that of HUFF.