Talk Back at Looney Bigotry Showcased as Angry “Activism”

A drumbeat of right-wing vitriol is now being lionized in the media.  Ken “Skin-Dog” Collins has his guts in the right place but his head in a tv show starring citizen cops and homeless villains.

My reaction to the Santa Cruz Weekly article below:

Cleaning up trash is one thing, talking trash and treating people like trash is another.

Recognizing politicians ducking issues and holding them to account is one thing, pressing a

violent senseless Drug War is another.

Calling for the resignation of powerful top-salary institutional bureaucrats like Martin Bernal is

one thing, calling for a search-and-destroy policy against homeless people destroying

homeless services and bulldozing homeless camps–is another.

Step back and consider who the real culprits are as the war, surveillance, and bankster

economy crushes us all.

Santa Cruz’s Angriest Man

Big-wave surfer Ken Collins has become a public-safety activist and controversial figure

Ken Collins, a Santa Cruz big-wave surfer turned controversial activist, talks to an officer while cleaning up at Harvey West.

Ken Collins has been talking nonstop for fifteen minutes. His voice is getting hoarse, and the cold he fought off a day earlier sounds like it’s coming back. “This is a small surf city with big city problems. It should never have gotten this bad,” he says, sitting at a picnic table about thirty yards from the Harvey West Park woods where he played hide-and-seek as a kid. These days, Collins wouldn’t let his children on the playground.
Collins has with him an empty plastic milk carton of cigarette butts and used syringes he found on the ground. When he goes to a city council meeting, he brings the same carton with him, and shakes it like a rattle in between public commenters.
Collins, better known as “Skindog” to the extreme sports world, is one of the world’s premiere big-wave surfers. He competed in the Mavericks Surf Competition last month—and from the looks of it, probably hasn’t smiled since. Collins took up this local cause after a long Tuesday walk in November when he and about 20 others found a bunch of trash on the railroad tracks and stormed into the city council chambers to give the politicians an earful.
Collins isn’t the only person angry about used needles and homeless addicts around Pogonip City Park, the San Lorenzo River and Cowell Beach, which ranked as the worst beach in California last year. But he might be the most

“Santa Cruz is a supermodel with AIDS,” he says. “It’s this beautiful place that’s completely diseased.”
Collins calls the Homeless Services Center a “crack house.” (HSC director Monica Martinez says the shelters have a no-drug policy.) He says the city manager should be fired for failing to address Santa Cruz’s public safety, and accuses city councilmembers of not doing their jobs, even though two of them began their first terms less than two months ago. Collins is a little short on patience.
Volunteers Craig Lambert and Gary Young are working nearby in the Harvey West’s baseball field to build a batting cage. Last season, the two men, both of them fathers, showed up early before little league games to clean trash off the field. They say someone has to do what Collins is doing.
“When I was a kid,” Young says, “we’d play outside until we got hungry and come home for dinner. You can’t let your kids play out until dark anymore. You have to practically drive them everywhere.”
It’s tough to deny that Collins, regardless of what anyone thinks of what he spouts, embodies the frustration that erupted after fellow surfer Dylan Greiner made a YouTube video in November about three tons of trash in the caves near Cowell Beach.
Collins says he’s not just harping on problems, but also has solutions. He suggests the city build public restrooms with surveillance cameras out front, while also hiring a ten-member group to pick up trash and a four-member team of police officers with all-terrain vehicles and horses to “harass” homeless people and chase drug dealers out of town. The city is looking at healthy reserves for the first time in years, and Santa Cruz might hire new cops, but plans like Collins’ would be no small expense for a city.
“There are good homeless people,” Collins says. “I have compassion for the homeless people that are down on their luck and need help, and they’re seeking help. But there are junkies who use the homeless population to hide themselves and camouflage themselves to do their dirty seedy work.”
There’s no evidence that Santa Cruz’s recent high-profile crimes—two shootings, a grocery-store robbery, and a rape at UCSC—were committed by homeless people. But Santa Cruz Police Captain Steve Clark says a “playful attitude” about drug use has plagued Santa Cruz for years, and leads to more crime.
At a recent city council meeting, councilmember Don Lane cautioned against dividing homeless people into different camps.
“Those are all people who are homeless, and they may have different needs, and the community may want to deal with them differently, but we do need to deal with them,” Lane said at the Feb. 12 meeting. “The fact that someone’s homeless and a drug addict does not make them a non-human being in our community. And we need to deal with those folks in a constructive way, too.”
“Skindog” is not backing down. “My approach has been very aggressive. I’m very aggressive,” he says. “I don’t pussyfoot around this. I don’t tread lightly trying to be polite, because that’s not going to work.”


Demonizing the Sparechangers

NOTE FROM NORSE:   The “It’s a Racket”,  “The Homeless are Scamming”, “It’s All for Drugs” paranoia is alive and well in Santa Cruz.  I share some of it myself.  But I think this article talks both compassion and common sense about trusting your own instincts in whether to give or not to give to any particular person.   Legitimate doubts and genuine concerns are often much more loudly trumped by a merchant agenda which simply wants to remove visible poverty period.
               Thus in Santa Cruz we have the “give money to the Imagine Real Change” meters (large red parking meters that also serve as “no homeless sitting within 14 feet” markers) placed offensively up and down our main street, Pacific Avenue, as a deliberate urging for people to mistrust poor people, ignore pleas for help, and funnel money to bureaucrats.

February 25, 2013

An Open Letter to Two Women on the Subway

Homeless in February


It’s February, early evening. I’m on the Q train heading home. A young man in a beat-up, threadbare coat with a large backpack gets on at Union Square. “I’m sorry to bother you,” he announces. “It’s your money, and I know you’ve worked hard to earn it. You don’t have to give it to a homeless guy. There’s a hostel I’m staying at, and it’s going to be cold tonight. If I get twelve more dollars, I can afford a room.” I give him a dollar before he can finish his spiel. He smiles. “God bless,” he says.

I’m standing next to two young women, about my age. “Bullshit,” one of them says loudly to her friend. “He’s just going to get wasted. That’s what they do. They make so much money on these trains. I know it for a fact because my boyfriend used to do it. None of them actually sleep on the street, they just stay at their friends’ houses and get wasted all day.” The other woman nods enthusiastically. I say nothing to them. I go home and write them this letter instead.

Dear women on the subway,

I know you are having your own conversation, but I don’t think it’s a stretch for me to assume that you are, at least a little bit, talking to me as well. You probably think I’m a shmuck for giving a dollar to the homeless guy, and you may assume that I will be embarrassed to overhear your expertise on the true motivations of subway panhandlers. You’re not the first people I’ve heard talk this way, and I’m sure you won’t be the last. It’s true that most people don’t go into as much detail as you do; they are content to say “they’ll spend it on drugs” and leave it at that. But for you and all those others, the possibility that you will bequeath your spare change and little bits of pocket lint unto an undeserving person is worse to you than the monstrous reality that there are 50,000 people in this city who actually don’t have homes to live in. And for that, you are assholes.

This may seem harsh, but it needs to be said. While it is true that I think you both are assholes, I don’t mean to imply that you are the only assholes in the world or particularly worse than all the others. Nor am I including in my definition of “asshole” those who fail to give money to every homeless person they see–only those who are smug jerks about it. I also don’t consider myself to be better than you. I have been an asshole countless times in the past, and I know that I will realize in the future that I am currently an asshole in ways that I have yet to comprehend. It is easy to give a dollar to a homeless guy and feel like a generous person who has done your part. I would like to avoid this. Charity in a capitalist society can block the drive for truly radical change by providing an easy, feel-good outlet that avoids striking at the roots of the problems it seeks to ameliorate. Giving a dollar to a homeless guy is not a good deed that deserves congratulation. It is the barest minimum of human decency to give a small token of help to someone who asks.

We are taught that the poor must be scrupulously well-behaved to deserve any sort of assistance. We hold them to higher standards than we hold ourselves. The rich, meanwhile, do not come under such cruel scrutiny, even when they spend their money on drugs (or fancy cars, or extravagant vacations). It’s possible that both of you spend hours quaking with rage over corporate tax cuts and bank bailouts, but I doubt it. We live in a society that encourages this kind of thinking. There’s even an announcement that you hear on the subway all the time, “Soliciting money in the subway is illegal. We ask you not to give. Please help us to maintain an orderly subway,” as if the abstract idea of “order” is more important than the fact that there are actual human beings who don’t have enough food and have to sleep outside in the cold.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that everything you said about this homeless man is true. He sleeps not on the streets but in his friends’ houses, and he will spend my dollar on beer. You know what? Big deal. If panhandling on the subway were my chosen career, I would want a drink too. It’s possible that both of you are frugal teetotalers, but it’s a lot more likely that both of you, at least occasionally, enjoy hanging out with friends and getting wasted. I wouldn’t be surprised if both of you, like me, think that getting together with your buddies, watching Sex and the City 2, and chugging cheap champagne every time one of the characters makes a bad Orientalist pun is the very definition of a good time (ok, well…you get the point). If both of you had the misfortune to find yourself jobless, homeless, and without the support of family, you would still have the right to enjoy getting wasted with your friends. If your life sucked enough that panhandling on the subway seemed like the best option, you would deserve every bit of fun and joy you could come by.

No matter their background or life story, a person who carves out a living from accumulated tiny acts of kindness from strangers is a thousand times more commendable than a person who gains their wealth from the exploitation of others. A person who sits around and drinks beer with their friends all day hurts no one, yet it is the CEOs, the bankers, the celebrities, the present-day equivalents of the “Captains of Industry”– those who hoard so much wealth that they impoverish others–who earn our society’s admiration. What else is expected from a capitalist system that is collapsing under the weight of its own nightmarish cruelty? Until we can work together to radically transform it, do us all a favor. Don’t be an asshole.

Alyssa Goldstein is a contributing writer at Jewish Currents magazine and an intern at Verso Books. She graduated from Bard College with a degree in Sociology. She can be reached at

Responding to Councilmember Posner on Today’s Council Meeting

Subject: UCSC Expansion, Cars on the Beach, Needle Exchange, & Public Safety
Date: Mon, 25 Feb 2013 00:08:57 -0800

On the agenda: UCSC Expansion, Cars on the Beach, Needle Exchange, & Public Safety
Dear Constituents,
City Council continues to be a fascinating learning experience for me and each agenda item is merely a window into a complex intersection of institutional efficiencies and community priorities.

Cars on the Beach
This week, item number 18 of the 3PM session is a proposal from staff to amend the city’s ordinance governing automobile use on the city’s parks and beaches. The proposal would legalize the expansion of the use of automobiles beyond emergency and maintenance vehicles to “any vehicle under contract with the city”. Those of us who walk and ride the levee path and beaches have noticed a significant increase of automobile traffic in these “car free” places, much of which is comprised of private First Alarm Security Guards patrolling from within their trucks. Now folks have the opportunity to comment on whether or not this is appropriate. If you do or do not want First Alarm and other folks trucking around the parks and beaches, please send the city council an email before Tuesday at 9:00 AM to citycouncil@cityofsantacruz .com or show up at the meeting at 809 Center Street. Number 18 will be heard as early as 3:30PM.
UCSC Expansion
Perhaps the most fascinating thing to be discussed on Tuesday will occur in closed session but the public is still welcome to weigh in on it. At 1:30 PM, on Tuesday, the council will talk about it’s ongoing case with the Habitat and Watershed Caretakers. According to the Santa Cruz Sentinel, this is in regard to the fact that a citizen’s group (Habitat and Watershed Caretakers) recently successfully won a lawsuit against the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that the City filed on behalf of the University to expand city water and sewage ‘sphere of influence’ into the upper campus of UCSC. Should the city continue to spend money and staff time to attempt to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court? Should we redo the EIR to include the alternative that UCSC could expand into upper campus without increasing its overall water use? Or drop the whole thing and risk undermining the part of the settlement agreement with the city requiring the University to house at least 2/3 of their students?
Needle Exchange
What isn’t directly on the agenda is the atmosphere of fear around public safety in our city, fueled by Take Back Santa Cruz. At the last City Council meeting on Feb 12th, the council took action on a series of public safety recommendations, including a conversation on our local needle exchange program, which is run by volunteers. Everyone agrees that this program could use more oversight and support from the county health department, but some people seemed to blame the program itself for the scary proliferation of used needles around town, and were trying to insure that the needle exchange lose its ability to operate in the city.  After a week of intense study, I learned that needle exchanges are, in fact, our best chance of properly disposing of used needles and that the proliferation of needles is more likely caused by drug stores selling needles for 60 cents each without a prescription and having no obvious place to dispose of the dirty ones. At the end of the day (literally), Cynthia Mathews made a motion for the county health services staff to come up with a needle exchange proposal to include operation within the city which passed unanimously. While the Council still has to approve a location for the exchange and is sure to get opposition in doing so, the motion represented a victory of reason and sound policy over fear based perceptions.
Other Thoughts on Public Safety
While we can all appreciate the energy that folks are putting into public safety right now, it is important that we use our best thinking and best research when trying to improve the situation, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts and proposals on how to do so.
PS: There are many excellent events being organized to promote Public Safety at present. One of them is being organized (in part) by my ex-campaign manger Jacqueline Seydel. Below is the information:

March and rally to counteract the acceptance of rape culture.
Noon on March 8th- International Woman’s Day
Meet at the Quarry Plaza at UCSC for speakers, followed by a march to town.

Please contact me anytime. I work for you.

You are receiving this email because you are a member of Micah for SC City Council. Click here to modify your email subscription options. For other information, please visit our website.

Council member Posner:

Here are a few concerns regarding your e-mail to constituents.

1.  I notice you did not send it to me from the City Council address, yet you are suggesting people respond to that address.  Which do you prefer?  Are e-mails on city business being saved so they can be made accessible to Public Records Act requests?  Will you please request specific information (currently being withheld) on which City Council members are using private accounts to store (and/or delete) correspondence on City Business?

2.  Re: #18 specifically.   Please make a staff request to get information regarding citations, stops, and costs of city-authorized vehicles on the levee in the last two months. How frequently do they patrol?  What specific “public safety hazards” have they found?  Ask for particulars, not general comments about drugs, loitering, camping.   Ask how much property has been confiscated on the levee.  How much thrown away?

3. UCSC expansion:  What are the enforcement provisions for UCSC’s promise to provide 2/3 of the student housing ?  Wasn’t the same promise made several decades ago and then violated without consequence?  What’s your position on the questions you raise?

4. Council’s cave-in in response to Needle Hysteria:  Are you actually suggesting there is any credibility to the Drug War Prohibitionist claim that needle exchange needs “more oversight”? If so, what particular acts or omissions of the last four years require that?   

5.  I renew my request that you ask for police stats around the Barson St. site during needle exchange times for the last three months to indicate (a) whether any reports of needles were found there, (b) whether there was any increase in actual crimes there, and (c) how many needle-stick reports have been made to the SCPD and other agencies in the last 5 years.

6/ Please also ask whether city authorities have a specific needle clean-up program, how often it operates, how much funding it gets, and whether that funding has increased or diminished in the last decade. 

It continues to enrage me that you and other Council members responded to a panic attack by creating a public safety hazard with the shut down of the Barson St. needle exchange.  This was done behind-closed-doors with no public input
in a decision you have neither publicly renounced or even criticized.  (If you have done so since in any public statements, please advise me.)

    I believe obtaining the information requested above may be helpful to assess the accuracy of the picture Take Back Santa Cruz, the Clean Team, and their right-wing allies on the Council painted in the last few months.  It may in some small measure ameliorate the damage City Council has done through the City Attorney.

    Thanks for this your constituent letter and for  trying to broaden your public outreach.

Where can the “restore needle exchange in the City” petition can be accessed in hard copy?  I’d suggest you also put out that information to constituents (as well as on-line info) if you are serious about restoring needle exchange in accessible areas and reversing the public health threat the Council has unleashed. 

Robert Norse

Local Civil Liberties Issues

Councilmember Posner:

At the HUFF meeting, members asked you numerous questions.  This is a follow-up to those questions and to my previous e-mails and phone calls as well as your responsesIf you find the number of specific questions daunting–please indicate which of these you will  prioritize.  I believe they are all important and actually only don’t require extensive work on your part.

1  Have any new insulting “Imagine Real Change” meters been set up in the last year?  How much money has actually been generated by these meters since they were put in?   How often were they vandalized and repaired?

2 What is the response of the City Attorney to your question about whether the SCPD is being advised to respect the White v. City of Sparks decision protecting artists and writers selling their work downtown?  
3.  Please request a staff report on police policies around homeless sweeps–i.e. whether homeless people who they accost  in the middle of the night are given a legal place to go sleep.  Ask for the specific instructions given to beat officers, any written documents or reports around this practice, and how much money and police time is being spent on this.
     Additionally please request a report on property confiscation:  what the policy is, whether survival material found at camps left vacant during the day are stored or destroyed (the latter is what is being reported to me),  how much property is currently in police impound or storage, and how many trucks full of homeless property have been taken to the dump for destruction–by what agency, how frequently, and at what cost?

4.  I’d also like to see a report on the “addresses” of those cited in the downtown core around such ordinances as the Sitting Ban, the Panhandling Ban, and the Performing/Tabling Ban  (where ‘Ban” means severe restriction).  This would go a distance towards indicating whether the chief targets of these laws are homeless or disabled people.   The City, of course, faces legal vulnerability here, which would be a good motivator to halt such practices.

5.  What is the status of your public support for Ammiano’s Homeless Bill of Rights?

6.  Please ask to see the direction given SCPD officers in the downtown core regarding enforcement on MC 5.43.020 (“Move-Along Every Hour if you’re a political tabler, panhandler, artist, or performer”) &  MC 9.50.012 (Sitting Ban).

7..  Are any bikes being delivered to non-profits from the SCPD, either via the Bike Dojo, the Bike Church, or any other mechanism?  The response that this issue is “under discussion”–which has been the City’s line for the last year while poor people via non-profits are being denied bikes is not a helpful one.  Please provide specifics regarding how many bikes have been delivered in the last six months and then passed on as was previously the case at the Bike Church.

Please clarify  when and to whom you have made these information requests and send me a copy in writing of such communications.
Robert Norse


Bigot Criticism Groundless But Real Concerns Remain at Homeless (Lack of) Services Center in Santa Cruz

Note by Norse:  The story below is followed by an afterword from John Cohen, who edits the local Homeless Persons (Disabled) Advocacy Site at

Cohen has advocated for several disabled people thrown out of the local shelter

The local Homeless Services Center is run by Executive Director Monica Martinez a Board of Directors headed by City Council member Don Lane.  I call it the Homeless (Lack of ) Services Center (HLOSC) because of their failure provide real shelter for more than a fraction of the homeless community, their collusion with law enforcement authorities, and their refusal to advocate for the restoration of civil rights for homeless people.

Our criticisms of the shelter management are many:  that it has destroyed and not replaced locker space, that its workers got to court against homeless advocates and homeless people challenging the local anti-homeless laws (such as the Sleeping Ban in the PeaceCamp2010 protests), that it refuses to provide documentation of those on its waiting lists (which might deter Sleeping Ban harassment of  folks), that it enforces its own anti-loitering policies during the day–destroying the original purpose of the shelter as a sanctuary,  It also has hired First Alarm Security guards to threaten homeless people “hanging out” in public spaces nearby–mirroring the attacks on human rights being done downtown by “Hosts”, police, and other uniformed thugs.

However, recent criticism from fanatics and homeless-haters on the right that it is a “Drug Den”, that it pollutes the neighborhood with trash, that it is a source of discarded needles, is simply part of a nasty Not-in-Our-Backyard agenda by NIMBYs in groups like Take Back Santa Cruz[TBSC], the Santa Cruz Neighbors, and the SCPD to enforce their own anti-homeless agenda as well as promote a new Drug Prohibition War..

HUFF’s criticisms of the HLOSC should not be confused with those of TBSC.   If you’ve had concerns about the HLOSC, plese post them at the HUFF blog at .

I Went Undercover at a Homeless Shelter — You Wouldn’t Believe the Shocking Abuses I Found There

Renee Miller was sexually propositioned by a staff member immediately upon arrival, and that was just the beginning.

February 18, 2013  |

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Tallahassee Grapevine. An investigation has been launchedinto allegations of abuse at the shelter. 

I work with the homeless every day at City Walk (and I mean Every Day, on Sundays when we are closed, my husband and I take a group of them to church.) One of my biggest goals is to show them God’s love for them, that there is hope, that they have value and they can overcome this trial in their life and get back on their feet.

We have a group of guys that stay at The Shelter that come every day to escape the drama of that area of town. They love to come help and pass the time blessing other people. We help them apply for jobs online or in person, counsel them and figure out where they need to be (sometimes this involves letting them work off a bus ticket back to family.)

Whenever I first heard complaints about The Shelter, I shrugged it off. I figuredof course they are going to complain about it. It is not supposed to be Club Med, but a place to sleep outside of the elements. If it was too comfortable, people would not be motivated enough to leave.

But as time went on, the complaints started coming from different sources about the same things. We give out backpacks, clothes and blankets at City Walk. I kept seeing the same faces come back for blankets or backpacks. When I ask them what happened to their other blanket or backpack, they tell me that staff at The Shelter threw them away.

After getting this “excuse” 10 times a week for several weeks, I decided to inquire with my daily volunteers. They told me that they won’t let you bring your own blanket. I figured it must be so people can’t sneak in any drugs, alcohol or weapons.

Many of the guys sleep outside under the polebarn, which is fenced in onShelter property. They told me that they are not allowed to bring their backpacks inside when they go eat. When they come back out to the polebarn their backpacks were collected by staff and thrown in the dumpster.

Many of these backpacks contained all the men had to their name, including important documents like their Birth Certificate, and photos and letters from loved ones.

The last straw was Sunday morning when we picked up 4 of the guys for church. I asked them how they slept and they all said lousy. Their blankets were taken away and staff would not issue any of the 42 men that slept outside a blanket at check-in.

When one of the men went back up to tell staff that they all needed blankets, the staff member yelled at all the guys, “You are not getting blankets tonight and I don’t care if you all freeze to death!”

This irritated me, but I know there are two sides to every story. As I inquired with others, the stories matched up too well. I also know that many good citizens of Tallahassee go out of their way to donate blankets to City Walk or directly to The Shelter, so to deny the men a blanket is spiteful to the rest of us whodonate. It’s funny they don’t have any problem collecting their paycheck paid for from our donations and tax dollars.

So I decided to go undercover and see for myself what it was like for a women to check herself into the Tallahassee Shelter.

Since many of the staff has seen me around there giving out blankets and Bibles, I knew I had to disguise myself. I put on an auburn wig that made my hair shorter and a baseball cap.
Sunday night, as I entered the area to check-in, an older black woman entered right behind me. The male staff member behind the counter yelled at the woman,”You’re late for check-in, you have to sleep outside tonight!”

The woman walked out. I wondered why he let me in as she walked in right behind me.

He asked me if I had been there before. I told him no. He asked for my name. I made one up. He asked me for my phone number. I thought that was odd so I made one up. He told me to wait outside.

I went out with the other ladies and children and a few minutes later he came out. He told me that the phone number I gave him did not work.

I told him it was dead and I needed to charge it.

He said, “Okay, well here is my number. Call me and we can hook up later tonight.”

Did I just get propositioned by a staff member? I was infuriated but did not want to break my cover.

I answered, “Nah, man, I just need some food and some sleep.”

“You don’t want to sleep in there. It’s dangerous. You can come sleep at my place. We can stop at McDonald’s.”

Seriously, a staff member – a person with some authority – was propositioning me – no, better yet, PREYING on a woman he KNOWS is in a vulnerable situation. A woman comes to

The Shelter to escape the insecurity of the streets, not to be thrown to the wolves. Now I know why he let me stay and kicked the older woman out. He didn’t want to get in her pants.

I wanted to stall him so I asked for a drink of water. He came back with his own half-drank bottled water for me.

He propositioned me again. He said, “It’s not safe in there for women. You are better off coming home with me. I get off at 11:45. Just meet me in that parking lot over there.”

I wanted him to leave me alone so I told him I would go with him later.

He asked me to be discreet and don’t tell anyone I was going.

Inside, as I was waiting for a bed number a different staff member needed to get to the dryer. As he passed me, he shoved me out of the way and I fell to the floor.

The man came back to remind me I was leaving with him at 11:45 and to be discreet.

I noticed a woman playing solitaire on her bed. I asked if she wanted to play a card game. She told me that they would get kicked out if they were caught playing cards with others.

The looks on the faces of the women were despondent. I felt depressed and I knew I could leave at any time and go home. These women and children had no where else to go.

Dinner was half an hour late as we got herded outside like cattle into what I call “The Cage.” The Cage is a chainlink fenced-in area adjacent to the building. There is only one way in or out, and that door could only be opened from the inside of the building.

As the women were told to come back in, the staff member that kept asking me for sex told me to “Wait here.” In. The. Cage…Alone.

My mind was racing. I’m never scared in Frenchtown. I’m around prostitutes, addicts, dealers, and mentally ill people all the time and NEVER scared. I never think twice. I’m usually armed with a Bible and known for preaching but tonight I’m just a homeless person. How could I explain to my husband that I was raped tonight at The Shelter. I immediately put my foot in the door just before he shut it.

“You’re still leaving with me, right?”

I nodded.

“You didn’t tell anyone, right?”

I said no.

I decided the stories I had been hearing are true. I experienced the abuse first hand.

I had two babies and a husband at home and it was late and I better get going.But to sign out, I had to get past the solicitor. I got scared.

I went into the bathroom and called the police. I told them what I was doing and to ask for my fake name at the front desk and have me come outside.

They arrived and my stalker wanted to come with me to talk to the police. I told the police I wanted to talk to them alone.

We went outside and I told them the story. They informed me there was no crime. A staff member can solicit a guest for sex if they want to. They agreed it was unethical, inappropriate and just plain wrong, but there was nothing they could do. So they gave me a ride back to my car.

As I was inside, I was able to talk to many of the women that stayed there, some with children.
I found out some pretty disheartening stories. I found out that in order to get your laundry done, you had to perform sexual favors to the staff or you would get put at the end of the list.

I found out that “the rules” depended on who was working at that time and it is common to be yelled at and berated right in front of your own children. Nicknames given to the women by staff are things like “Fat Ass” and “Heifer.”

If a woman decides to stick up for herself she is threatened with a call to DCF to have her children taken away. If she further complains, she is threatened with being banned from The Shelter, then a call to DCF because she has her children sleeping in the street. She just has to sit there and take the insults and cursewords as they are spewed out at her.

One women told me, “He knows we’re powerless here and he can treat us however he wants. I can’t go to anyone because I don’t want to risk having nowhere to go and losing my kids.”

A lot of the guys told me they choose to sleep outside because there is a Bed Bug infestation in The Shelter. At first I did not truly believe it, but everyday, our volunteers and their kids show up with bites all over them.

One woman told me, “We just learn to live with it. It’s better than having your kids sleep outside.”

I don’t believe in coddling people. It should not be “easy” to be homeless or that takes away the incentive of finding a way out. However, for many, finding themself homeless takes away much of their dignity. They don’t need to be verbally abused, assaulted or treated with such disrepect, especially from the staff that is hired to care for them – especially with your tax dollars and donations.

Don’t take away whatever dignity they have left.

That night, word got around at The Shelter about what I did. Monday morning, as we were opening City Walk, George (a homeless volunteer that stays at TheShelter) excitedly came to get me.

“Renee, come outside, hurry.”

I go out front and look up at 7th Avenue – a large group of women, men and kids were walking towards City Walk – some with no shoes, some pushing baby strollers, some I had never seen before.

George said, “They know what you did last night and are here to see you.”

I was already bawling my eyes out when they finally crossed Thomasville Road.

One of the women hugged me so long I thought she was not going to let go. She said,

“Someone willing to do what yu dd last night shows you really truly care about what happens to us. We want to volunteer here today.”


We need some brave souls to go undercover at the Homeless Services Center (HSC) in Santa Cruz. From stories related to me by homeless people I advocated for, you might be shocked.

The social service workers and their supervisors who run the HSC shelters insist that homeless beneficiaries have no due process rights — in other words homeless people can be evicted immediately from the shelters without written notice or opportunity for appeal. This is illegal because the HSC shelters receive federal grant money to operate: they are providing federal benefits. It shocked me to hear social service supervisors echo the refrain that homeless beneficiaries have no rights.

I have asked federal agencies to look into these abuses at the HSC.


John Cohen’s facebook site can be found at

San Jose has its Obamaville; Bryantville coming to Mayor Bryant’s Santa Cruz?

Large homeless tent city springs up near downtown San Jose

By Mark Emmons
Posted:   02/20/2013 04:19:03 PM PST
Updated:   02/20/2013 09:04:57 PM PST


Click photo to enlarge

A campsite, built by members of the homeless community, is part of a growing… ( Gary Reyes )

SAN JOSE — As a large homeless encampment has sprouted in grassy fields not far from the Guadalupe River Park, some frustrated local residents have made this sarcastic suggestion:

Maybe the financially strapped city should just start charging camping fees.

“I’ve heard that joke,” said Ray Bramson of San Jose’s housing department.

But he’s not laughing. Nobody else is, either. The tent city, which rapidly mushroomed into a makeshift community of more than 100 people, has become the latest test for officials as they wrestle with the complicated problem of homelessness.

Director of Housing Leslye Corsiglia wrote Wednesday in a memo to the City Council that the site, located along Spring Street between Taylor and Hedding streets, is targeted to be cleaned up — and cleaned out — the first week in March. The “somewhat unprecedented growth” of the encampment has prompted the city into action, Corsiglia told the council.

Bramson, the city’s point person on the encampment issue, said the larger challenge is finding solutions beyond merely pushing the homeless elsewhere.

“This site is our highest priority right now because we can’t accept this,” he said. “We don’t want that land to be overtaken and have people coming from outside the region and set up there. We realize that it’s unsettling for the community and that nearby residents don’t feel safe.”

There has been mounting political pressure throughout Santa Clara County as residents and environmental groups — fed up with crime and garbage associated with encampments — have pushed for more attention to be focused on the homeless issue.

A majority of the city’s estimated 60 encampments are along waterways where they generally are hidden from view. This one is different because it’s so visible and has grown so quickly — much like an unsightly weed. The open area near the popular Guadalupe River Trail, sports fields and San Jose Heritage Rose Garden has become populated with about 70 tents and tarpaulin-covered structures.

Not taking action, Mayor Chuck Reed said, simply will invite more people to set up camp.
“Folks are trespassing and there are no sanitary facilities,” Reed said. “We certainly don’t want people living in unsanitary conditions. We have to go through, clean it up and get people into services.”

Area residents say there used to be one person living in a tent there. But more tents began appearing late last year. Then, a January cleanup of state land along the Guadalupe River by Caltrans had the unintended effect of swelling the numbers on this undeveloped property that is owned by the city and the San Jose Mineta Airport.

“All these new people came up from the river banks in the last month, and I stay as far away from them as possible,” said a homeless man who asked not to be identified. “Most of those people are drug addicts, and you can hear them up all night. It’s horrible.”

Peter Hubbard, 62, visits the green space because it’s a prime location for migrating birds. But he has watched with increasing alarm the damage to the ecosystem and the brazen attitude of some squatters. One man, he said, saw his bird-watching binoculars and advised him to leave.

“I told him in no uncertain terms that he had no right to tell me what to do on that land,”

Hubbard said. “I’m not looking for any confrontations with these people, and I’m sympathetic because I know a lot of them have problems. But they just can’t let people stay there.”

Sgt. Jason Dwyer, a San Jose police spokesman, said the department has not seen a noticeable uptick in crime near the encampment.

“But it’s certainly an eyesore because there’s a lot of tents out there,” Dwyer said. “You can see it growing, and I’m sure thousands of people who drive past them every day see it, too. But cleanups aren’t going to solve the problem. The goal has to be to get people off the streets permanently.”

Bramson agrees. He said the city’s nonprofit partners who work with the homeless have been making outreach visits to the site, letting people know that workers are coming and offering shelter options. The short-term aim will be to prevent repopulating the encampment — which is a common, frustrating pattern.

“It does have the feel of a campground,” Bramson said. “It’s basically park land, and that makes it hard to keep people out. We just don’t have the ranger coverage that we used to have. But there needs to be some level of enforcement to keep it clean.”

A homeless man with a scraggly gray beard who identified himself as Pete, and said he is a 59-year-old Air Force veteran, understands why the city wants them out.

“They’re not picking on anybody personally,” he said. “The city doesn’t want to lose its image. It’s hard to say where I’ll go, but there’s always options.”

Hubbard is just looking forward to the site being returned to its original state.

“It’s such a fine piece of land, and that’s why I’m a real advocate for this parcel,” he said. “When they’re gone, I’ll be back in there helping to clean it up.”

John Woolfolk contributed to this report. Contact Mark Emmons at 408-920-5745.

Herhold: San Jose has modern version of Depression-era encampments

Posted:   02/20/2013 02:28:37 PM PST
Updated:   02/20/2013 09:00:16 PM PST

We can say it officially now. San Jose has its Hooverville, the modern version of the Depression-era encampments that collected the misery of the homeless.

True, it is a suburban Hooverville, with trash bagged on the street, propane tanks for cooking, campsites distanced from one another. Even the homeless don’t like being cramped.

Like the Hoovervilles of the 1930s, however, the encampment rebukes our complacency, reminding us of the fractures in our economic health.

As you drive into downtown on Coleman Avenue from Interstate 880, you can see 70-odd tents blossoming on either side of Spring Street in the city’s airport approach zone.

All that is likely to change soon. Located on the city’s welcome mat, the encampment is too visible to stay. City officials have scheduled the week of March 4 for a massive cleanup that could cost $40,000.

In the game of “whack-a-mole” that we play with the homeless, the tents and their occupants will migrate elsewhere.

For the moment, the visibility of the encampment off Hedding Street forces us to confront a phenomenon that we’d sooner put out of sight, out of mind.

In his state of the city message, Mayor Chuck Reed noted happily that the Milken Institute had proclaimed the San Jose metropolitan area the best in the country at creating and sustaining economic growth. (The study was actually talking about Silicon Valley, but let’s not quibble too much).


left behind

The truth is that there are thousands of folks left behind in that race — the mentally ill, the drug-addicted, the folks with criminal records.

In the creeks, they were the people who used shopping carts to fish for Chinook salmon.

They were the folks who dumped their trash and sewage into the stream. Environmentalists cried foul. The Santa Clara Valley Water District made cleaning up the creeks a top priority. In early January, Caltrans swept the Guadalupe River.

And the homeless moved to the cleared plots of what a half-century ago was a residential neighborhood — before the jet planes shook the houses to their foundations.

From a not-in-my-backyard point of view, the homeless have landed in a place without too many complaining neighbors.

“The word has gotten out that there’s no resistance,” said Leslee Hamilton, the executive director of the Guadalupe River Park Conservancy.

I rode my wheezing Nishiki 10-speed past the encampment this week and saw a tired-looking man in his 50s walking toward a tent with a cup of coffee.

“Do they give you any hassle here?” I asked him. “No,” he told me, “as long as we stay out of the creek.”

Their own code
It struck me that he and his comrades were obeying their own rough zoning code: Stay out off the creek. Protect the field mouse and the fish. Hope for a look the other way.

Just steps away from the developed portions of the Guadalupe River Park, which some saw as our rough-hewn Central Park, the settlement is too visible to ignore.

And many good people are trying to deal with the unwanted settlers. The Emergency Housing Consortium has dispatched its folks. City staffers work hard to find help. It is not a lack of goodwill.

The Hoovervilles of the ’30s were political statements, located in places like Central Park in New York City or the shores of the Willamette River in Portland, Ore.

The encampment on Spring Street is a political challenge, too, but one less widely shared than the misery of the Depression.

“It’s easy to point fingers at police and just tell them to arrest people,” said Councilman Sam Liccardo. “But if you don’t have somewhere to push them to, they’ll be back.”

The Hooverville of the airport approach zone wil disappear for a while. The homeless will not. They will gather again under a freeway, or near a creek.

For most of us, they will be out of sight, but they should not be out of mind.

From: brent adams
Date: Thu Feb 21, 2013 4:57 am
Subject: Homeless Bill of Rights
To my mind, this is the most important thing going on.. and right up HUFF’s alley.

I’d like to hear you’re all rallying hard for this.
From: brent adams

Date: Thu Feb 21, 2013 12:09 am
Subject: San Jose has its Obamaville; Bryantville coming to Mayor Bryant's Santa Cruz?

That is a great place for a camp as it is in the main flight path of the airport.  The old neighborhood was torn down years ago and nothing

has replace it.  It is just acres of lush green grass and trees.  It is patrolled by a security company.  Occupy San Jose or some other

activist group should jump on this quickly.. it is a perfect place for a sanctuary/survival camp.



Homelessness Up For Discussion or Diversion? 7-9 PM Tonight–Monica Martinez & Don Lane

NOTE FROM NORSE:   Tonight Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom hosts a talk at the Quaker Meeting House, 225 Rooney St., east of Morrissey Blvd., in Santa Cruz (next to the freeway) 7-9 PM.Speaking are former Mayor and Board President of the Homeless Services Center (which some of us call the Homeless Lack of Services Center) Don Lane and Monica Martinez, its Executive Director.Their topic is “the current state of homelessness in Santa Cruz and calling for action in support of the 180/180 Initiative which provides permanent supportive housing for the most at-risk and vulnerable of our homeless citizens.”The 180/180 program seeks to raise government and private funds to house a fraction of the most costly homeless folks (i.e. those who scare the merchants most) with  no provision for the rest of the community and no let-up in the criminalization of the other 95%.  It seems to be a successor program to the Housing First! program and the Continuum of Care (“End Homelessness in Ten Years” shuck and jive) that got federal funding for the last decade and a half.

It’s not that providing housing and supportive services for 180 people in Santa Cruz county is a bad idea.  Obviously it’s not.  But focusing all attention and energy on a fanciful grant-magnet 180/180 program is done at the expense of immediate shelter and human rights needs.  It seems largely a self-justifying project for bureaucrats.  Meanwhile the same leaders (Lane and Martinez) counsel colluding with police and courts in their campaign to drive away and criminalize a whole class of people.  Focusing exclusively on 180/180 diverts the public’s attention from the recent smear campaign of anti-homeless warriors on the right led by Councilmembers Comstock and Robinson.  The massive “needles = homeless = illegal camps = crime” rage given unjustified credibility were recently echoed by the Mayor of the City (See ).

Unfortunately Santa Cruz has several thousand homeless people (Santa Cruz County even more)–currently under rabid attack by vigilantes, police, sheriffs, rangers, security guards, city council, hired clean-up crews as well as courts and D.A.’s.   It is illegal to sleep in Santa Cruz after 11 PM at night, illegal to set up a survival camp site at any time.  The City Council (with Lane voting in favor and Martinez silent) has made “unattended” camping tickets into misdemeanors punishable by a year in jail and $1000 fine.

A prior “Homelessness Summit” on December 1st out at Cabrillo College, masterminded by the backers of the 180/180 program completely sidelined the real issue of the need for immediate shelter, campsites, legal support now and has resulted in no further action.

These “feel good” psuedo-positive initiatives sacrifice human dignity and human lives for what some politicians seem to consider the “politically possible”.  Fresno and D.C. are apparently experiencing similar problems as the stories below seem to indicate.

Fresno Activist Mike Rhodes writes:
This is from a Washington Post article published last Friday.  It is painfully obvious that the local government (both the city and county of Fresno) has had many of the same problems.  But, that does not stop them from continuing to push one program after another, even though they are doomed to fail. 
The current plan to build housing (The Renaissance project) houses a small percent (perhaps 5%) of the homeless population, with the vast majority of people left to fend completely for themselves. 
The city and county won’t even provide them with drinking water, portable toilets, or trash pick up.  I believe the reason they (city and county officials) do this is to give people (in the broader community) the illusion that they have a plan to end homelessness, but the bureaucrats in their cynical hearts, know what they are doing is not going to work.  Unfortunately, people who are not paying close attention have the hope that something is being done to solve the problem, when in fact they are being mislead.  In the meantime, the vast majority of homeless people are the ones who suffer, while the bureaucrats collect their fat salaries.
Why does D.C. still have so many homeless?By Colbert I. King, Published: February 15

More than 900 people, including 600 children, crammed into a makeshift D.C. homeless shelter? Things weren’t supposed to turn out this way. By now, we were told, homelessness in our nation’s capital would be a thing of the past. Let’s take a trip down memory lane.
In 1993, the Clinton administration persuaded Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly to enter into a partnership, called the D.C. Initiative, with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The idea, hatched under HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros and Assistant Secretary Andrew Cuomo, was to make the District a national model for local governments on ending homelessness.
To get the city’s buy-in, HUD dangled a $20 million grant and other federal bucks, provided that the District kicked in some of its own funds for homeless services.
After weeks of meetings stretched into months, the cash-strapped District signed an agreement in 1994 transferring the city’s responsibility to an entity known as the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness.
In 1994, according to city estimates, approximately 3,400 single adults used the District’s shelter system. They represented about 60 percent of the people in the system.
It was thought that 1,200 to 1,500 of those 3,400 lived on city streets and used the shelters or public space intermittently or interchangeably.
About a fifth of shelter residents were families who turned to the system repeatedly because of their precarious and unstable situations.
Some had drug addictions or major health problems; some were victims of domestic violence.
The D.C. Initiative’s solution? Transition from a shelter-based system to a “continuum of care” approach that entailed creating a community network of agencies and programs to tackle not only housing needs but also the root causes of homelessness.
Over time, The Post ran a series of cautious editorials about the feds’ push for the initiative.
The District had been used before as a federal test case — with city officials often left holding the short end of the stick.
Vincent C. Gray, the director of the D.C. Department of Human Services under Mayor Kelly, testified before the House subcommittee on housing and community development on Oct. 26, 1993, as to the D.C. Initiative’s goal.
Yes, Gray has been at this for a long time.
He promised Congress that with HUD money the District would try “to create real, permanent, enduring solutions for families and singles who are homeless . . . and make a contribution to . . . the Nation in how to resolve, once and for all, the problem of homelessness in this Nation.” That was nearly 20 years ago.
The Post tracked the D.C. Initiative through the departure of Cisneros and Cuomo from the Clinton administration, and through Pratt’s leave-taking from the District government.
By 2000, the D.C. Initiative was over and done. But the homeless were still here.
In June 2004, Mayor Anthony A. Williams presented with fanfare: “Homeless No More: A Strategy for Ending Homelessness in Washington, D.C. by 2014.” He billed it as a “client centered” approach focused on bringing to the table all the key service providers to create a system that prevents and ends, rather than maintains, the problem of homelessness.
Williams left office. The homeless remained.
In April 2008 Mayor Adrian M. Fenty introduced the “Housing First” fund. “What we are proposing is a new approach to serving our chronically homeless neighbors,” Fenty said. “The systems of the past have not brought us closer to ending this humanitarian crisis.”
Fenty proposed moving chronically homeless people from the streets and shelters to housing where they could be provided comprehensive services to solve the problems that contributed to their homelessness.
Sound familiar?
Fast-forward to 2013.
Today, millions of dollars later and after years upon years of government, nonprofit and private-sector efforts, homeless families are still in the defunct D.C. General hospital shelter, in motels or on the streets.
Is it a question of funding or underfunding, management or mismanagement, commitment or lack of concern? Does part of the problem also rest with those without roofs over their heads? Is the answer some or all of the above?
The Post’s Annie Gowen reported this week that Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), chairman of the D.C. Council’s Committee on Human Services, said he would conduct hearings on conditions at the hospital shelter. That’s too limited a focus.
There is no better time to take a sober look at the persistent problem of homelessness in our nation’s capital, its causes, what has worked and failed, and what can realistically be done to get people beyond their plight to greater independence.
That may be a better D.C. initiative.

Clean Needle and Syringe Distribution is a Necessity not a Menace

Penelope Jernberg, a former intern with Santa Cruz needle exchange, is independent of that group now and speaks as a free agent.   She is currently working to decriminalize syrine possession to start operating syringe services in Nevada. I received the following letter from her on Sunday February 17th.

Hi Robert,
First, I would like to address the confusion about “best practices” for syringe access and public health recommendations.  The current recommendations for syringe access are to provide as many unused syringes as possible.  The reason for this is that for each injection a person should be using a new syringe, for every time.  That means if a person injects 4 times a day, they need 4 needles a day, not reusing one.  The health concern for this is that reusing makes the syringe dull, this can tear skin more than needed.  The more pressing reason is that reusing a syringe exposes the syringe to many bacteria, that bacteria is then injected straight into blood or tissue which frequently causes or puts them at higher risk of other health problems such as MRSA (drug resistant staph), necrotizing fasciitis (flesh eating bacteria), and a host of other disease.
This is not even including sharing syringes.  As I’m sure you know sharing syringes is the number one cause of Hepatitis C in our country, which estimates that over 70% of IDU’s (injection drug users) contract it.  This is what fuels me.  I’m not sure at what point any person should be condemned to a slow death of liver failure due to their own preferences.  Some drugs are legal and some are not.  People are prescribed serious opiates by doctors and those that can not get them use heroin, which in its pure form is actually safer and better for your health than fentanyl, morphene, and oxycontin.
To not have access to syringes is the primary reason that people share theirs with others while using drugs. this is not just the first cause of transmission for HCV it is also the third cause of HIV transmission in our country. Another life long and deadly disease.
 The current CDC recommendations are that an IDU use a new syringe for every injection.  That implies they would need as many as they use personally.  To have a one for one policy restricts the amount that an individual has access to at any given time.  If they only have one and the exchange is not open for another two days and they inject five times a day…that’s only simple arithmetic to know they do not have enough to inject safely every time.  The previous exchange at the drop in center had a one for one policy.  I urge those that are against it to think about the repercussions of not giving enough syringes. On a human note, without regards to literature it just makes sense.  I recall on one such occasion working at the drop in center when an individual was trying to get just one needle and I could not give it to him because he did not have one.  He told me he was on his way to the metro to fish one out of the biohazards, likely to contract some disease. Why would we do this to someone just because we don’t agree with a policy?  We as a community condemned him to that because we couldn’t accept a one for one plus program.  This occasion and the many others that were similar broke my heart, and they push me every day to do more research, to try harder, to help those that can not help them selves.
To go back to resources and policy.  There are numerous federally funded studies that prove with significance that one for one is not an effective policy.  The Surgeon General endorses syringe access and the federal government has such loose language for oversight or recommendations that you could throw unused needles out of a window and that would follow federal guidelines.  So when anyone says it does not follow guidelines, I’m curious which ones?  There are none. (a copy of the most up to date federal guidelines) Syringe access has been passed on to state and local governments as a policy, way too large of a policy for a small government to regulate.  When the Santa Cruz City Council first claimed SOS did not have the correct paperwork to operate a syringe access program I can address that: There is NO paperwork, there are no permits, there are very few to no regulations discerning what a syringe access program can and can not do.
Several years ago when I was more involved and helped to establish the exchange we filed an MOU with the HSA that recognized us as a viable program, to this day they support us completely, including following a one for one plus model. During this time I tried to connect with the police department to establish some agreement with them.  What happened was appalling at best.  I tried to have a conversation with Steve Clark who immediately cut me off and suddenly was yelling at me over the phone, thank goodness I did not try to go in there.  I was and still am offended.  This man clearly should not be in a public position as I experienced him loosing his temper in a matter of minutes.  He then went on to say he did not and would not support our program because we did not follow federal guidelines.   Obviously I tried to address the fact that there are NO federal guidelines. He used his same tactic, and barely let me talk.  So, we never established anything with the police department, but boy we tried.
The only grounds that the City Council legitimately has on SOS is that they were operating without consent of the laundromat owner, we also tried to contact him when we first took over, I do not even know who he or she is.
To address discarded syringes: the primary reason people improperly discard their syringes is police harassment.  It is currently legal to posses up to 30 unused syringes and any amount that are containerized.  This has not changed with law enforcement practices.  People are going to jail for possession of paraphernalia laws that no longer exist! For fear of arrest they are throwing them where they can (in general). As my previous anecdote states, I’m sure police practice won’t change since Dick Clark er, Steve Clark won’t even talk about needles without yelling.  I for one hope never to talk to him again.
Finally, to address the current laws, they are both current and correct.  Let me specify a few points of them both.  Pharmacists are allowed to provide up to 30 syringes without a prescription. (law here)
The downsides to this law:
  • Sale is at the discretion of the pharmacist, if you look dirty they probably won’t sell to you
  • The pharmacy has to opt in to selling this to start with
  • syringes cost money, if you need money to get your fix or food more money is hard to get
  • you can only get 30, what if you are exchanging for multiple people and inject frequently.
  • the pharmacist does not provide other works which by sharing also lead to infection
  • the pharmacist does not provide referrals to other services (shelter, food, medical services)
  • the pharmacist most likely does not know health complications specific to IDUs
  • in general, listening and being a non judgmental advocate as SOS volunteers are, is lost in this process

This law is definitely a step in the right direction, but it is no solution.  There are still many limitations to this law.

In regards to the other, yes California legally permits Syringe Access Programs.  This law allows specific counties or jurisdictions to allow Syringe Access Programs in their community when they see fit.  It is still not an oversight law or regulation though, the county or area has to allow it.  Santa Cruz allowed it decades ago, and I do not know the specifics of that. It is my understanding that an MOU is sufficient to allow an SAP to function.
I know this was long, but I have a lot to say about Syringe Access. It is from my experience that what is preventing these programs from functioning to their fullest across the nation is stigma of IDUs and drug use (primarily), a lack of understanding public health, and a lack of better regulation.  There is a lot to overcome before we can rest at night knowing we are preventing HIV or HCV to the best of our abilities.
Robert, thank you for your interest in syringe access and the Santa Cruz program, and for being an advocate. I hope I addressed your questions, please let me know if you have any further questions.  I would like to add that I write this as an individual and with no representation, perhaps only as a student at this point.
Thank You,
Penelope Jernberg
University of Nevada, Reno
MPH Graduate Assistant

From: Robert Norse <>
To: Steve Pleich <>
Cc: David Silva <>; Penelope Jernberg <>
Sent: Sunday, February 17, 2013 7:21 AM
Subject: Needle Exchange Question

A story in the L.A. Times about the Fresno Needle Exchange attracted my attention after I read this comment on your post at indybay:


by Observed

Wednesday Feb 13th, 2013 6:02 PM

…first of all I support needle exchange!

That means a 1 for 1 policy.

Obviously that was the policy of the SC exchange when you were involved. But equally obvious is the fact 1 for 1 is no longer the policy. That has created unintended consequences. Until the exchange is more manageable things need to be put on hold.

Fresno’s experience was that it was not a great idea to operate in or very near homes. Being in a regional park had its problems when used needles started turning up in a children’s play area. While it was likely NOT the fault of the exchange, it was still blamed for the problem. [emphasis mine]

To its credit, the Fresno took positive steps and so prevented a shutdown. Given its illegal status at the time it would’ve been very easy to justify closing it down completely. The county supervisors were very hostile towards the concept and the city simply looked the other way. The county had prosecuted volunteers in the late 1990s when the exchange operated in the Tower District.

When the used needles turned up, the exchange moved out of the park to a nearby commercial area. That relieved the community concerns and things kept on trucking.

Hopefully the SC exchange can resolve the problems it now faces. It better. Otherwise it may go away completely. That would be likely very unfortunate.

My questions is whether you have heard this was a problem (neighborhood needle exchange resulting in the unsafe disposal of needles nearby) here, in Fresno, or elsewhere ?

I then accessed the following story about Fresno from the L.A. Times

Needle exchange proudly flouts the law


The story includes the following info:

Two bills now on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk could supersede Fresno’s prohibition on needle exchange. One would let doctors, pharmacists and workers at approved programs provide a limited number of syringes without a prescription. The other would direct the state Department of Public Health to sanction needle exchange when they believe there is a public health risk.

Did these bills pass?



Old, Female, and Homeless in San Francisco

Old, Female and Homeless

Life on San Francisco’s streets for women over 50 is filled with hardships, small and large.
January 25, 2013  |

This story was produced with support from the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, and first appeared in The Nation

The doors of the Mission Neighborhood Health Center in San Francisco don’t open until 7 am, but on the Saturday morning I was there, a dozen or so people were already lined up by 5:30. The group included a middle-aged white man who had lost his job managing a high-end restaurant and a black man wearing a crisp security guard blazer because he had to be at work by noon. Each was there hoping for a bed for the night. The city assigns most slots in its homeless shelters on a first-come, first-served basis by computer. The people had shown up here so early because they know through experience that every last bed will be claimed by 7:10 am.

When Marcia has no bed, she is left with precious few options, none of them good. She can ride the city bus, hoping for a kind driver who won’t boot her into the street. That’s what a 55-year-old woman I met named Dorothy used to do until she deemed that strategy too risky. “If you don’t get a nice driver, you have to get off every hour or so and wait for another one,” Dorothy said. “If you have to wait for a bus at three in the morning, you’ll be waiting a long time. Anything can happen.”   A 56-year-old woman named Marcia, who has been homeless for six years, was one of the unlucky ones. She arrived while it was still dark, but not early enough to secure a bed. Because it was the weekend, her bad luck also meant two days of killing time. “Saturdays and Sundays are hell for those of us who are homeless, because most walk-in centers are closed,” she told me. “I especially hate Sundays. That’s when I ride BART.” For Marcia, riding the Bay Area’s commuter rail system is a relatively cheap way to get some rest during the day. She often falls asleep on the train, and it’s not uncommon for her to wake up and find herself an hour or more outside San Francisco.

And then there were the plastic chairs at the Oshun Drop-In Center, a public facility run by the San Francisco Department of Public Health. Marcia usually chose the plastic chairs at Oshun. It was hardly ideal, but at least she felt safe there and could try to get some sleep. “You can’t lie down on the floor,” she said. “You try, but you’re not allowed.” After a night spent contorting herself into an uncomfortable chair, her back would be killing her. “But I try not to think about it,” she said. “After a while, you get used to it.”

It used to be that homeless women over 50 were blessedly rare. Marie O’Connor began helping seniors find housing in San Francisco’s Mission District in 1992. “To see homeless elders back then was shocking,” said O’Connor, a volunteer coordinator with the St. Anthony Foundation, a nonprofit providing the homeless with housing, meals and medical care. “Today, it’s the norm.”

How widespread is the problem? Every homeless advocate and shelter monitor I spoke with told me the older homeless population in San Francisco is exploding. The problem is bound to get worse as the price of housing reaches new heights. San Francisco is the most expensive city in the country for renters, according to a March 2012 report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Small studio apartments are going for as much as $2,000 a month, which requires a salary of at least $70,000 a year.

And it’s not just San Francisco. The cost of living in most major metropolitan areas is on the rise, while wages are down. In states like California, ongoing budget cuts to services like the Supplemental Security Income, In-Home Supportive Services and adult day healthcare centers are making it harder for elderly people to pay for housing. According to the latest numbers from Hearth, an organization working to end elder homelessness, the country had 40,750 homeless people 62 or older in 2012. As the nation’s population ages, that number is expected to more than double by 2050.

To homeless advocates in San Francisco, those numbers sound way too low, given the problems they see just inside the city limits. But whatever the figure, there’s no doubt that life is miserable for older people without a home. Lugging suitcases or bags for dozens of blocks to and fro, from a shelter to a reservation center to the place that serves free lunches, can be incredibly taxing if you’re young and able. Doing so with the disabilities and ailments common to those in their 50s or older, from chronic back pain and arthritis to swollen ankles and gout, is that much harder.

And then imagine those women’s lives, when feeling safe meant another night spent contorted into a hard plastic chair.

Longtime advocate for the homeless James Powell seemed relieved when I mentioned that I’d seen the plastic chairs: maybe now someone would do something about them. “We’re talking about women sleeping in chairs. It’s a travesty,” said Powell, a case manager with the Canon Kip Senior Center in San Francisco. Bevan Dufty, San Francisco’s homelessness czar, told me people sleeping in plastic chairs was “not optimal, but we have to have places where people can go. It’s not an optimal place, but it’s safe, which is important. There are people who thrive in shelters; there are people who refuse to go in shelters. It’s complicated.” 

Sometime after I talked with Powell and Dufty, the plastic chairs were quietly replaced at Oshun (now officially known as A Woman’s Place) by more comfortable cushioned chairs.

Located in the Mission District, the drop-in center is basically two large adjoining rooms, the otherwise bare walls brightened by a single big-screen TV. When I visited Oshun, I found a diverse group of forty-five women, each sitting or sleeping in a chair surrounded by her belongings. Some had old suitcases with broken zippers, while others had stuffed their things into ripped garbage bags. The lucky ones found a spot near a wall. They’d at least be able to rest their heads by putting a blanket against the wall behind them. The rest had no choice but to let their heads hang. 
Yet what choices do older homeless women have? Despite a spike in older homeless clients, says O’Connor of the St. Anthony Foundation, there are still precious few services to help women like Marcia and Dorothy. “If you’re a homeless woman, you’re guaranteed to be assaulted on the streets,” said Paul Boden, organizing director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP), a West Coast coalition of homeless organizations. Boden, who was homeless himself at 16 after the death of his mother, also served as executive director of the city’s Coalition on Homelessness. “Women try to double up with guys to be safe, but they usually get beaten up by those guys, so their options are limited.”

One of the regulars at Oshun is an Argentine woman named Zulema. She’s a 65-year-old who, when I met her, had been sleeping in the plastic chairs there for six years. “I stayed in shelters for four months, but the process is inefficient and I never felt safe,” she said. “The shelters are very bad for women, especially older women.” She told me she had become accustomed to sleeping sitting up on hard plastic. “You have no control of your life at the shelter,” she said. “At Oshun, I can come and go.”

You’d have no idea Zulema was a homeless woman who slept in a chair each night if you saw her on the street. She has flawless golden brown skin and a shiny gray bob. She often wears burgundy lipstick, khaki pants, a white button-down sweater and a jean jacket. She rides her bike for exercise and earns $400 a month selling flowers she buys from a wholesaler. She often drinks tea and reads the Bible at Starbucks. Advocates describe her as one of the few Oshun regulars who haven’t had the spirit beaten out of them.

A case in point is the older woman I spoke with who had served in the military and said she’d been homeless for several decades. She warned me that every person I was talking to was lying. “Why would you believe any of them?” she screamed. “Not a damn thing has changed since 1931. It never will. You’re wasting your time.”  

Then there’s the physical toll the streets take. “Most homeless women in their 40s or 50s look like they are 70 or 80 because homelessness takes such a toll,” said O’Connor. “I no longer know if a homeless person is 50 or 80.”

Marcia, the homeless woman I met in front of the Mission Neighborhood Health Center, is 56 and looks her age. Maybe that’s because she only became homeless at 50. She’s a black woman who walks with a cane. She throws a large backpack over her thick green jacket and often wears jeans and a black bandanna. She learned the hard way about navigating the chaotic and stressful world of homelessness in 2005, when her mother died. She and her sister were supposed to share the money from the sale of their family home, but Marcia had a stroke that left her visually impaired, and her sister took the money and left the state. Talking about her life since that time, she paused, shook her head and admitted that she’s still shocked to find herself living on the streets.

“I didn’t even know this world existed before I became part of it,” she said. “When you’re homeless, you lose control of your environment. Most of the people I meet have mental illnesses. You never know when they’re going to snap. A quiet room can turn into chaos within minutes. I don’t sleep much.” Last year, Marcia testified in front of the city’s Shelter Monitoring Committee and offered a lengthy prescription for improvements, including an end to co-ed shelters so women feel safe. She also argued that the mentally ill should be kept separate from everyone else. But nothing changed. “Right now, we’re all lumped together,” she said. “It makes no sense.”

Marcia lived in a single-room occupancy hotel for six months. But the rent ate up half of her $900 Social Security check, and because SROs generally don’t have kitchens, she spent much of the rest on prepared meals. By the third week of the month, she often had less than $10 left on her debit card. “I’ve never been that poor,” she said. “I couldn’t deal with it. I also didn’t feel safe on the same floor as men. The walls were thin and it wasn’t clean, so I left.” Life got much worse when she was hit by a car and injured in 2009. She reached out to relatives and friends but never got a response.

“When you need something, everyone disappears,” Marcia said. She told me her goal at that point was to muster enough cash to buy a bus ticket to Reno, where she hoped to find an affordable place. Meanwhile, she tried not to think about suicide. “You get so depressed,” she said. “I’ve been able to maintain my sanity because I know how to withdraw. Like most homeless women I’ve met, I was molested as a child, so I know how to go inside of myself.” According to the National Center on Family Homelessness and the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a staggeringly high percentage of homeless women have experienced severe physical or sexual assault at some point in their lives.

Homelessness czar Bevan Dufty told me he was willing to talk with the women I’d met over the past few months, to explore their cases and contact their case managers about permanent housing options. The real problem, though, is the lack of affordable housing. “I can show you 27,000 individuals on the public housing list,” he said. “We’re dealing with a very big problem. We’re talking about a city that’s very expensive.”
Of 155,000 seniors living in San Francisco, according to a report by the city’s Department of Aging and Adult Services, roughly 19,000 live below the federal poverty line: $10,326 per year for a single person age 65 or older, or $13,014 for a two-person household. Based on the Elder Economic Security Standard Index, 61 percent of San Francisco’s seniors don’t have enough income to meet their basic needs. Meanwhile, the country has endured years of trickle-down economics, welfare cutbacks, rising income inequality, attacks on unions and the privatization of public services. Those are only some of the factors WRAP spelled out as causes of homelessness in its report “Without Housing.” And perhaps the biggest factor affecting older homeless women: the government turned housing over to the private market in the 1970s, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s budget was slashed by 77 percent between 1978 and 1983.

No wonder Paul Boden of WRAP said that the situation for the older homeless population has gotten progressively worse since the 1980s. “Back then, I could get a senior a nice room in an SRO hotel within the Section 8 program,” he told me. “Today, you can’t get them shit.”

The city is now looking into ways to house homeless individuals with medical needs that exceed the capacity of the emergency shelters to handle. “The most vulnerable can’t stand in line for hours at a time,” said Amanda Kahn Fried, policy director at HOPE, the city’s Housing, Opportunity, Partnerships and Engagement office. Some of these people, she noted, “are at the point in their life where they can’t take care of themselves. They’re either too old or too sick and can’t get out of bed or get to the bathroom.”

The city’s current efforts have some homeless advocates feeling hopeful. But for others, like James Powell at the Canon Kip Center, they’re a reminder of earlier attempts that ended in frustration. Ideas would be floated, meetings held, solutions discussed—and then nothing would happen. Maybe that’s the silver lining in a situation that has gotten so bad, Powell said.

“This is getting above the point of focus groups and closed-door meetings,” he added. “We’re on the verge of an implosion. We can’t continue to ignore all of these people who are suffering. We have no choice but to listen and act.”

Addressing the problems of the poor is the mission of blogger Greg Kaufman’s This Week in Poverty. His latest dispatch: “An Anti-Poverty Contract for 2013?

Rose Aguilar is the host of Your Call, a daily call-in radio show on KALW 91.7 FM in San Francisco and KUSP 88.9 FM in Santa Cruz, and author of Red Highways: A Liberal’s Journey into the Heartland.Tip of the hat to John Cohen for alerting us to this story from his Santa Cruz Homeless Persons Disabled Advocacy page at .

Fresno: Burning Out a Homeless Encampment?

Fresno has no Heart – Will Evict the Homeless on Valentines Day
by Mike Rhodes ( editor [at] )
Monday Feb 11th, 2013 5:43 PM

The photo below shows the north end of the Monterey and E street homeless encampment.



An eviction of a significant number of homeless people at a downtown encampment will probably take place on Thursday, February 14. According to residents of the homeless encampment, located near Monterey and E street, they were told by the owner of the property they are living on that they have until Thursday to “move on.” The owner was accompanied by several officers from the Fresno Police Department and a truck & crew from the Fire Department.One homeless man told me this afternoon (Monday, February 11) that the owner of the property said he would be bulldozing the vacant lot on Thursday and everything would be destroyed. “He told me to get the fuck out of here,” he shared with me as he sorted through recycled items sitting in several shopping carts on the property. When I asked if he was sure it was the owner, he said “well, he had the police with him, so it looked pretty convincing to me.”

Unlike other evictions by the City of Fresno, there are no signs posted to notify the residents of the demolition that is to come. Julie (not her real name), said someone had posted an eviction notice about a month ago, but those were torn down within an hour or two. The owner told her that he did not have to post notices because it is his property.

There was an eviction that took place in the spring of 2012 at another homeless encampment, behind the grain silos near Palm and H street, that was similar. This was private property, the owner made numerous attempts to force the homeless to move, and eventually put a fence around the property to force the eviction. Many of the homeless people from that encampment moved about 200 feet south and occupied a different vacant lot. They have not been threatened with eviction again, as far as I know.

Most of the residents at the Monterey and E street homeless encampment who are being threatened with eviction said they were planning on moving, but I was told that not everyone would pack up and move. I was told that it is only the north end of the encampment that has been threatened with eviction. The dividing line is Monterey street. Everything north of Monterey street will likely be destroyed on Thursday. Everything south of Monterey street is said to be safe from the demolition.

Can the owner of a vacant lot take and immediately destroy homeless peoples property? Did the City of Fresno threaten the owner with legal action if he did not move against the homeless? Will FPD officers participate in the demolition or arrest anyone if they resist? Observers are needed starting early Thursday morning. If you can help, meet at the encampment starting at 7 a.m. on Thursday. Bring your video or still camera to document what takes place. If you can’t come until later, let me know so we can coordinate having someone there all day.

Demolitions of homeless encampments in October and November of 2011 resulted in over 30 lawsuits against the City of Fresno claiming that the city violated homeless peoples legal rights by taking and immediately destroying their property. Those cases are working their way through the court. Without this litigation it is likely that the city would have been more aggressive in their attacks on the homeless. A new strategy of forcing property owners to evict the homeless may be emerging as City Hall seeks to avoid additional lawsuits.


Mike Rhodes is the editor of the Community Alliance newspaper. He can be reached by email at editor [at] .

§Another view of the norht end of the encampment

by Mike Rhodes Monday Feb 11th, 2013 5:43 PM


§This shows the entire area impacted by the evictions

by Mike Rhodes Monday Feb 11th, 2013 5:43 PM


§Typical Shelter in the Area

by Mike Rhodes Monday Feb 11th, 2013 5:43 PM


§This is the center of the homeless encampment looking north

by Mike Rhodes Monday Feb 11th, 2013 5:43 PM



Burning the Homeless out

by Mike Rhodes ( editor [at] )
Sunday Feb 17th, 2013 7:10 PM

This is a follow up to an earlier Indybay article about an eviction of homeless people at the Monterey and E street encampment in Fresno.



As I drove toward the Monterey and E street homeless encampment on Valentine’s Day, I could see a huge plume of smoke rising into the sky. When I got a little closer I could hear and then see the fire trucks screaming towards the smoke. They got there about 5 minutes ahead of me, but they already had most of the fire under control by the time I arrived.I was going to the encampment to check out reports that the owner was going to bulldoze the vacant lot, inhabited by about 100 homeless people in downtown Fresno. See:

After taking a few photos of the scene I headed over to the police and what looked to be the fire department supervisor. I asked the officer if there was anything suspicious about the fire. He looked puzzled. I told him that the owner of the property had told the residents that he was going to bulldoze the encampment today. More puzzlement in the eyes of the two guys I was talking to. I said, “have you looked into the possibility that the owner started the fire to force the homeless from this area?” This the police officer seemed to understand and he assured me that nothing like that had happened. “How do you know that?” I asked. “Well, these people out here would make a complaint if something like that had happened. Oh, they do all kinds of things themselves, but if something happens to them they will file a complaint.”

Seemed to me that the officer had some bias against the homeless and unlike any other house fire in this town, there would be no investigation of what happened here. After all, these were just homeless people, squatting on somebody’s land. Arson? An attempt to evict the people that lived there? Obviously, the police or the fire department were not going to be bothered to investigate what had happened.

This is one of the realities of the homeless encampments in Fresno. There are a lot of fires, some of which are caused by candles and other light or heat sources. Sometimes, as Gloria (a homeless woman who used to live in the area) told me, there are people who will burn your house down because you owe them $10.

Several people told me that the fire on Valentine’s Day was not due to the vigilantism of the property owner, but was the result of a personal dispute.

The eviction by the owner, who told everyone he was going to bulldoze their property, did not happen. This is not unusual and has become a pattern in Fresno. What usually happens is that you have a property owner who may or may not care that homeless people are living on his property. He or she is contacted by someone from the City of Fresno (usually code enforcement or the police) and they are told they have to do something about the homeless encampment on their property.

If the owner does not move to dislodge the homeless the city official will ratchet up the pressure. This could be in the form of telling the owner that if they don’t remove the homeless, the city will do it and send them a bill for the clean up. Another approach I have seen them use is to threaten the owner, saying that if they don’t remove the homeless, they will make life more difficult for them. In one case they told a home owner with obvious code violations that if they did not remove the homeless people from their property they would come and do an inspection. If the homeless people move, then there will be no pesky government officials turning over every stone at your house to make sure you are in 100% compliance of all local, state, and federal laws. You get the idea.

In this case, the owner came out to the encampment on Monterey and E streets, with the fire department and the police watching his back (from a safe distance) as he threatened them with eviction and a bulldozer on Valentine’s Day. This created enough anxiety among the homeless that at least ½ of them moved away. That was the desired result. If the city and property owner can get the homeless to leave, without bringing out the bulldozer, that is a win for them.

Most homeless people don’t want to be a part of a confrontation and they will move on when threatened with the destruction of their property. Of course, they usually just move over to the next vacant lot and the process starts all over again.

§Why was their no investigation of this house fire?

by Mike Rhodes Sunday Feb 17th, 2013 7:11 PM





All photos by Mike Rhodes