The “Search for Sleep” Protest will begin on July 4th at 6:30 PM in front of the Main Post Office after the Saturday Food Not Bombs Meal. Councilmember Micah Posner sent the following letter of support for the protest. I responded with the letter that follows (slightly expanded and clarified for publication here) demanding actual action on his part and the part of other Councilmembers rather than pretty words.
COUNCILMEMBER POSNER’S LETTER TO CONSTITUENTS ON THE EVEN OF THE 4TH OF JULY PROTEST
Well, I can’t say I have really taken a break from City politics. In fact, activists whom I respect are pushing me to work for change whether it is summer or not. In the Good Times that came out on June 24th, activist/ journalist John Malkin exposed the unscrupulous way that myself and a dozen other community leaders have been bullied and threatened by Police Deputy Chief Steve Clark. This hasn’t made it easy to sleep at night, despite the fact that I’m riding my bike a lot.
Now my father, Rabbi Phil Posner, is leading a sleep-out on July 4th to protest the fact that there is not a legal place for homeless people to sleep at night in Santa Cruz. My father, age 77, is a freedom rider who spent 39 days in a Mississippi prison in 1961 for sitting in bus stations with black people. Having moved to Santa Cruz about a year ago, he is shocked by the way we treat the homeless. “At least in the South,” he wrote in a piece to the Sentinel, “black people could sleep in a park.” While I know it is a difficult issue to solve, I agree with him.
This is not to say that I am happy with the behavior of all homeless people. Unlike blacks in the South, many individuals end up homeless due to irresponsible choices. However, the basic phenomenon of homelessness is due to our economic system and our society. We are not responsible for the individual circumstances of each homeless person, but we are responsible for homelessness. We have tried to evade that responsibility by making it illegal to be homeless. Specifically it is illegal for homeless people to sleep at night anywhere in the City of Santa Cruz and most other cities in California. And sleeping at night is a basic function of human beings.
In doing so, we have exacerbated a problem that effects those with homes and without. I completely agree with residents who tell the Council that they are fed up; who tell us that, “We have to end this.” Homelessness is a huge drain on the police, on the courts, on the emergency rooms and on our parks and open spaces. The lack of a place in society for the homeless is not a result of compassion or its lack. It is result of denial and disorder.
There is a light at the end of this tunnel. A plan to largely end homelessness by housing the people who are terminally unhoused has been ratified by the entire City Council and Board of Supervisors. This represents a real solution and I entirely support it. If we were not criminalizing the homeless via the anti-sleeping ordinances, it would be reasonable to simply work on the plan as quickly as resources would allow. As we reorient our resources to this real solution, however, where do we expect the homeless to go? Our one walk-in shelter, the Paul Lee Loft, will soon reopen specifically for transitional housing and will be open only to those who expect to have a home within 90 days. What about those without this expectation?
My intention is to place the issue on the City Council’s agenda this Fall by asking the Council to either repeal the anti- sleeping ordinances or begin a process to identify a place in the City for homeless people to sleep. I invite your feedback: If you don’t want to locate a place for them in the City what makes you think that they will disappear? If you do support a legal place, what would it be like?
To meet my patriotic papa and be part of this latest struggle for civil rights, go down to the Main Post Office on Front and Pacific on July 4th for a free meal from 4 to 6PM or join them at 7PM to walk to a nearby open space where people with and without homes will be camping out for the night. To get ongoing updates on the action, to volunteer or help to defray costs, call the cell phone of super activist Steve Pleich: 466-6078.
Your Concerned Council Member,
MY RESPONSE TO POSNER AND HIS FELLOW COUNCILMEMBERS
This is good rhetoric–better than Mayor Lane’s, in fact.
However the proof is in your actions.
You haven’t advised me whether I can tell folks tomorrow at the General Meeting that you have sought and obtained agreement from the Mayor to put the issue on the agenda in August or September. Or that you have gotten a guaranteed second so it can actually be debated. What gives here? PLEASE ANSWER CLEARLY WHETHER YOU’VE DONE THIS.
Further your “light at the end of the tunnel” proposed by the Board of Supervisors to “end homelessness” appears to support another in a long line of “studies” and “intentions” designed to garner federal and state funds for very limited programs without focusing the real resources necessary to provide the housing starts (or building confiscations) that would actually be necessary. It is a lie designed to mislead the community and falsely reassure people reminiscent of Obama’s claims that “we’re getting out of Afghanistan”.
The Paul Lee Loft has never been open to more than 46 people. Even before application was further limited only those with a 90-day hence home, it had little to do with emergency shelter for the 1500-2000 out there. It has generally been true that only the Waiting List has been available and the Homeless (Lack of) Services Center ][HLOSC} has regularly declined to provide those on the list with written documentation to show the police to forestall ticketing. And now that grudging help will not be available to homeless people generally unless they meet the absurd HLOSC “90-day” requirements.
As a City Council member, please request that staff (a) draw up an amendment to MC 6.36.055 that states there will be no prosecution or ticketing of those sleeping outside unless a police officer determine with a phone call that shelter space is available that night; (b) determine just how many sleeping citations were forwarded from the City Attorney, the SCPD, and P &R to the courts for prosecution (i.e. were held not to be protected under MC 6.36.055); and (c) require Parks and Rec to summarize their infraction ticket stats each month instead of requiring those seeking to review them to go through them citation by citation. PLEASE LET ME KNOW IF YOU’LL DO THIS AND WHEN.
If you bother to step outside your office and look at the recent tickets issued by the P & R–being held by Anna Brooks at the City Offices desk for us to pore over–you’ll see that (a) the overwhelming majority are for “camping”, “being in a park after dark”, and smoking, and (b) almost every single one has a stay-away order attached subjecting violators to 6 months in jail and/or $1000 fine (as a possible maximum). LET ME KNOW WHEN AND IF YOU’VE REVIEWED THIS GRI REALITY FOR ALL THOSE FOLKS YOU WRITE ABOUT. .
As for “identifying a place in the City for homeless people to sleep”, this phony search was done for six months in 1995 by Councilmembers Beiers and Scott when they were on the City Council, again in 1999 by Councilmembers Beiers, Krohn, and Sugar with the Council’s “Task Force to Examine the Camping Ordinance” when Beiers stated “there’s just no place for them”. ASK THE STAFF FOR THESE REPORTS OR CONTACT THESE FORMER MAYORS DIRECTLY AND FORWARD TO THE COMMUNITY THEIR CONCLUSIONS.
20 years ago, HUFF activist Becky Johnson, a former Board of Directors member of the Citizens Committee for the Homeless itemized a dozen places homeless people could sleep on city-owned property if bans were listed. PLEASE CONSULT HER AND REQUEST AN IMMEDIATE STAFF UPDATE ON THESE PLACES. If middle-class people were wandering around without homes because of a natural disaster, there would be immediate campgrounds set up as happened after the 19089 earthquake.
You can also move to demand authorities respect First Amendment requirements, eliminate curfews around City Hall, the libraries, and the parks that prohibit everyone, including activists, from even being in public areas–requirements imposed unilaterally by P & R boss Dannettee Shoemaker without any substantive justification. IMMEDIATELY REQUEST SHE LIFT SUCH RESTRICTIONS OR JUSTIFY THEM IN WRITING WITH SPECIFIC CONCERNS. MAKE YOUR COMMUNICATION IN WRITING.
If you really are providing more than lip service support, you’ll use your office to do what you can independent of vague and unsupportable promises. As well as FOLLOW UP ON PROMISES UNKEPT SUCH AS THE PROVIDING THE HLOSC BUDGET AND DOCUMENTING THE PUBLIC WORKS DEPARTMENT RECENT 24-HOUR PARKING BAN NEAR THE HLOSC.
Flowery rhetoric means nothing without action. You don’t have to be sleeping out to take any of the actions above.
I am also cc-ing every other Councilmember this letter, since it is clearly their obligation to act as well if they claim to be progressive or liberal on these issues. I shall encourage activists and the community to hold the entire Council and each individual Councilmember responsible on these issues–particularly those who have voted for ordinances further persecuting homeless people in public places (on medians, in parks after dark, at Cowell’s Beach at night, sleeping anywhere after 11 PM at night), etc.
But that burden lies heaviest on those who claim to be supporters of civil rights and services for poor people.
Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom