Questions for a Councilmember

Micah (Posner):   Following up on the HUFF meeting of several weeks ago, I’ll attempt to briefly summarize what I’m now seeking–either clarification or action–from you on the issues raised there and earlier.  Please do it briefly and in writing.  If you feel unable to do so because of “tactical” or other concerns, please contact me by phone.  I also include some of the prior e-mail for reference.  Again, short answers are fine.  And I’d be happy to meet with you if you need clarification or elaboration.

1.  Forward to Vogel a request for an update on Vasquez’s sidewalk smash of Richard Hardy ( the video itself referenced in the comments that follow).  If you’ve done this, when did you do it?  If you won’t do it, why not?2.   As I understand it, at the HUFF meeting 3 weeks ago, you committed yourself to making sure that any member of the public got 2 minutes to speak on each individual Consent Agenda item–whether by pulling it yourself or some other means.  Am I correct here?  Our previous dialogue:    Is it still your position that 2 minutes is adequate public comment time for 6-30 items on the Consent Agenda that are supposed to receive a Public Hearing at the request of the public or city council?  Your response:  I think that the public should be able to speak ONCE for two minutes on each consent item that they are concerned with. I believe that this is how Mayor Bryant has been holding the meeting.   BUT THAT IS NOT THE POSITION OF THE MAYOR OR YOU AT THE LAST FEW COUNCIL MEETINGS.  RATHER YOU CAN TALK FOR TWO MINUTES ON A TOTAL OF ALL THE ITEMS AS A GROUP NOT ON EACH ONE.  AND YOU MUST COMBINE THAT WITH YOUR EXPLANATION OF WHY YOU WANT ANY OF THESE ITEMS PULLED  AND YOU MUST BE CAREFUL NOT TO SAY ANYTHING OF SUBSTANCE ON THE ITEM THAT ACTUALLY DOES GET PULLED OR YOU WON’T BE ALLOWED TO SPEAK AT THE PUBLIC HEARING–AS GUARANTEED BY THE BROWN ACT.   ARE YOU CLEAR ON THIS? Do you still support Bryant’s position claiming that you will still not be able to speak on any particular item even if you’ve successfully coaxed a council member to remove it from the agenda because you’ll then “have had your comment time?”  What if you want to speak on several Consent agenda items?  Then the time you’ve spent “persuading” a Council member to “allow” a Public Hearing on one item will leave little time to address any other item essentially violating the spirit if not the letter of the Open Meetings (Brown) Act?  I THINK YOU’VE AGREED THAT 2 MINUTES IS NOT ENOUGH TO SPEAK ON 15 ITEMS (OR EVEN A SUBSET OF THEM).  WHAT ARE YOU WILLING TO DO TO BACK UP THIS UNDERSTANDING?

3.   Have you followed up on your commitment to attend an ACLU meeting and/or letter them specifically urging them to publicly oppose the cutbacks on space for street performers, vendors, and artists recently passed by City Council over your and Lane’s objections?  Will you be doing so?  (It’s actually probably equally if not more important to request a statement supporting homeless survival rights and opposing police sweeps when there is no alternate shelter being offered–are you willing to do this?).  My previous comment is still apt:  If you are really interested in putting some energy into public education here, I believe it would ultimately encourage allies and challenge the level of hatred (and merchant discrimination) against homeless people.   I’d suggest public statements as well as public appearances at the ACLU Board and other organizations, seeking to enlist their aid and buck up their spaghetti  spines.   Useless as these groups have generally been locally, they seem like political animals who perk up at the appearance of a public official.  It also might make up in some degree (in their eyes) for your sell-out on the Cowell Beach issue  (I believe the harsh term is accurate).  Your response: That’s a great idea but is a better role for activists then elected. That’s partly what I learned by encouraging the ACLU prior to the Council Meeting.   TO REPEAT–THE CLOWNS AT THE ACLU BOARD, SCCCPL, NAACP, DON’T RESPOND TO ACTIVISTS.  BUT POLITICAL CLIMBERS AND POWER-WORSHIPERS THAT THEY ARE, THEY DO RESPOND TO VISITS FROM POLITICIANS. YOUR PROPOSAL TO SEND THE SIDEWALK-SHRINKAGE ORDINANCE AMENDMENTS TO THE ARTS COMMISSION IS A NICE TACTIC; USE IT IF YOU NEED TO REASSURE YOURSELF YOU CAN RAISE THE ISSUE PERSONALLY AND PUBLICLY WITH THE ACLU & OTHER GROUPS, BUT GO IN PERSON OR SEND WRITTEN LETTERS.

4.   I appreciate the additional info about the segregated costly Levee portapotty (i.e. potential plumbing).  I’d still like some insight into who is pushing this in the staff rather than the much more reasonable and dignified alternatie of keeping open the San Lorenzo Park bathroom, say?  Hence my request about who you talked to, when, their responses, any written communications, etc.  Hence my inquiry to you in late October:  “THE STAFF” IS NOT A HELPFUL REPLY.  ACCOUNTABILITY IS THE QUESTION HERE.  WHY WAS THE OBVIOUS KEEPING BATHROOMS THAT ALREADY EXIST OPEN AT NIGHT REJECTED?  WAS IT EVEN CONSIDERED?  I REPEAT THE QUESTION BECAUSE YOU HAVEN’T ANSWERED IT.

5.   What’s the follow-up on your request to Barisone re:  Sparks v. White?  Specifically–has Barisone responded–in writing?  If not, please renew the request–it’s likely to be helpful in court and in dealing with cops on the street.   It is my feeling that his vindictive response to finding street art and culture constitutionally protected from the “no price tags” nonsense being pushed by the police were these bogus time-place-manner restrictions that essentially constrict-to-death street performing, vending, art, and tabling downtown.  Do you have any indication around this either way?
        You replied:  I will follow up, however, the issue doesn’t seem very timely to me.
FOR ANY ARTIST TRYING TO DISPLAY HIS WORK IN A 3 1/2′ x 3 1/2′ SPACE IT’S OBVIOUSLY VERY IMPORTANT.  THEY CAN PRESENT THAT OPINION IN COURT WHEN THEY’RE HARASSED.   When did you follow-up on the Barisone request?6.   You may ignore the internal conservative pressures  that  shut down the 5 Krohn Krappers a decade ago, but I suspect we’ll hear the same crap soon about your costly portapotty “solution”.   Or we’ll find the same two-tier “homeless get surveilled; middle-class people get privacy” that is now the case in the Locust St. Parking Structure.   I suggest you head this off by getting the real records of real police concerns.   Otherwise you may find yourself swept up in a Council response to mob myths fearprompted by TBSC et. al.   This is a repeated request.   Please review  the requests in bold below and forward those questions to staff.  They are currently claiming to “have no records”.  Which frankly strikes me as steaming horseshit without benefit of portapotty.
You replied:  I don’t see what happened in the past is relevant. We will soon open the bathroom and I will be very careful about reported “problems”.  With regard to privacy issue, these didn’t seem very important to the homeless at a well attended HUFF meeting several months ago.

7.  Dan Madison reports being banned from Verve for backpacks/homeless appearance.  Similar stories are coming out of New Leaf and Lulu Carpenter’s as well as the  Coffee Roasting Company.  What’s the result of your inquiry to the Roasting Company?
      You replied:  I’m having a hard time getting ahold of the owner of the Roasting Company. It changed hands several years ago from a well known local to some guy in Watsonville and the staff gave me a bum phone number for him. Could a HUFFster work on finding the contact info for the owner? If not, I will keep it on my long to do list.   A LETTER TO THE DOWNTOWN ASSOCIATION WOULD BE HELPFUL HERE ASKING THEM TO CLARIFY THEY DON’T SUPPORT POLICIES THAT DISCRIMINATE AGAINST THE HOMELESS.  Yes?8. The request you ignored seeking specific written response from P & R and the SCPD regarding the requirements, advance notice time, specific limits, costs, & appeal processes regarding Special Permits and Amplified Sound permits.  You responded:  I’ll work on this.   I did  the work and the “info” such as it is, is at    PLEASE KEEP A RECORD OF REQUESTS TO STAFF, TO WHOM THEY WERE SENT, WHEN, AND THE REPLIES RECEIVED–SINCE STAFF ARE THE REAL RULERS OF THE CITY UNDER KING BERNAL.  WE WILL AT LEAST THEN HAVE A PAPER RECORD OF WHAT’S (NOT) HAPPENING. I REMIND YOU THAT YOU HAVE AN INTERN THROUGH WHICH MANY OF THESE ACTIONS CAN BE FUNNELED.


10.  You might want to consider that your complaissance with staff (the constant strokings you do as they mendaciously remove everyone’s rights using the phony Public Safety mythology are embarrassing and repugnant).  I refer to the earlier issues the Parks and Recreation blank check 24-hour stay-away-or-face-a-year-in-jail ordinance, the median law, Cowell’s Beach closure, the bucks-for-baloney “Security” gate out at the H(LO)SC.  You replied:   I consider it all the time.   AND YOU ARE TO BE COMMENDED FOR ACTUALLY RAISING THE ISSUE SHARPLY FOR THE FIRST TIME–IN THE CONTEXT OF THE LATEST SCAVENGING “INVESTIGATION” SCAM AT LAST COUNCIL MEETING.  EVERY TIME YOU CHALLENGE THIS MYTHOLOGY WITH A REQUEST/DEMAND FOR STATS, THE MORE SHAKY THEIR HOUSE OF CARDS BECOMES.  SEE ITEM xxX BELOW.

11.  I have no written response from you on CruzioWorks discrimination against Dan Madison and his son Gryphon, which I requested you seek info from.  Didn’t you agree to look into that–as a private party if not as a Council person?  What have you learned?  You replied: I’m not at all convinced that Cruzio was discriminating against the Madisons based on their housing status and don’t intend to get involved.   YOU BASE THIS ON WHAT?  YESTERDAY AT CAFE BRASIL I SPOKE WITH A CRUZIO CLIENT WHO WORKED NEXT TO MADISON FOR SEVERAL HOURS AFTER HE’D PAID HIS $300; THIS GUY WAS BAFFLED WHEN THE MANAGEMENT CAME IN AND BOOTED MADISON OUT WITHOUT EXPLANATION.  WHAT HAS LED YOU TO ABANDON THIS ISSUE?
12.  Any sign of restored Needle Exchange in the City?  Please forward me a map of where Sharps Containers are available.  You replied:  Staff is working on a Sharps Container in the new bathroom. This is a good effort as it gets them in the business of figuring out how to do Sharps Containers and could be used for other locations. With regard to Needle Exchange, the Council here’s a lot more about getting rid of needle exchange at Emeline rather than the converse.   I REPEAT PLEASE FORWARD ME A MAP OF WHERE SHAPRS CONTAINERS HAVE BEEN PLACED OR DETERMINE THAT THEY DON’T EXIST.12.  When will you appoint a real activist (or anybody, for that matter)  to  the Measure K Commission?  Craig Canada might still be interested if you approach him.  The Commission is a joke, but having a strong voice there would still be helpful in exposing the rising marijuana bust rate here (and the freeze and cutback in dispensaries within the city).  What really needs doing, of course, is public statements regarding legalization and medicalization–something to talk back to the poisonous nonsense being spread by Comstock and Robinson and their TBSC friends.

You replied: I appreciate your suggestion. I think I did reach out to Craig at some point and he wasn’t interested. Feel free to refer him to me. It’s hard for me to recommend this position to someone given that the Commission is a joke. I don’t like to waste people’s time.   GIVEN THAT THE PUBLIC SAFETY TASK FARCE IS CONSIDERING ELIMINATING MEASURE K, LIMITING OR SHUTTING DOWN HEAD SHOPS, AND USING THE DRUG WAR AS PROTECTIVE COVER ON THEIR WAR ON THE HOMELESS, I THINK HAVING A STRONG VOICE THERE–EVEN ONE THAT CAN’T WIN VOTES IS IMPORTANT.   I’LL PASS THIS ON TO CRAIG.  DO I UNDERSTAND YOU’LL AGREE TO APPOINT AN ADVOCATE, IF ONE COMES FORWARD (I CAN’T VOUCH FOR CRAIG).

Sorry for the backlog, but these issues don’t go away.   Though the tone and extent of these questions may put you off, please try to respond however briefly.  That is your job.

Thanks again for getting back to the basics by attacking the Public Safety mythology as far as you did.  You need to talk to Vogel and get his specifics–since it’s my understanding from a conversation this summer that there has been no increase in crime subtantially in Santa Cruz in the last 20 years–all the comparisons with other cities of its same size aside.  Not that Vogel is the most disinterested source, of course.

Date: Wed, 25 Sep 2013 13:32:44 -0700
Subject: Re: Reiterating some requests and questions

Dear Robert,Sorry to miss the HUFF meeting.

With regard to the shitter questions. I don’t find them pertinent/ am not interested in them. I was directed by HUFF (a couple months ago) to get a 24 hour bathroom, “any bathroom”. That’s what I’m trying to do. The one we are going to open is not the most efficient or obvious or “best” use of funds. It’s the easiest one for me to get. Welcome to government.

I’ll forward your question to Barisone.

I would be very happy to talk to the owner of the Cofee Company about backpacks. Then I’ll get back to you.


Micah:Thanks for the heads-up on the latest attack on street vendors.

Please quickly request an opinion from Barisone–who continues to stonewall me–on the City of Sparks v. White decision’s applicability here (i.e. the constitutionality of banning street artists from showing price tags for their artwork).  I’d have thought you’d have done that back in February actually,  or several weeks ago.

On the shitter front, regarding item #9 is it correct to assume that the former public bathroom in the Locust Street garage  is now gone?    I believe I’ve also pointed out to you both the wasteful and discriminatory aspect of spending $15,000 to set up what is essentially a segregated portapotty on the leevee instead of using that money to open the San Lorenzo Park and/or Soquel/Front bathrooms all night.  Your response? 

Also what’s the status of the most-expensive-portapotty ever?  How does its cost compare with the cost of the 5 portapotties set up in 1999 under the Krohn Krapper Kommission?

I have not been able to secure police data  in spite of a Public Records Act request regarding the removal of those portapotties in terms of actual crime or vandalism then.  Please seek this directly from the SCPD or via the City Manager.

You should also be advised that certain cafes are now banning people from bringing their backpacks in the store (the Coffee Roasting Company for one)–which means, unless an individual wants to risk losing her or his stuff by setting it outside (and being ticketed too boot for “abandoned property”), they can’t access that public service.   Are you willing to publicly step up to mediate problems so that cafes have another alternative to expressing their bigotry than banning homeless-looking people with backpacks (or without–Brent Adams noted a family of three turned away earlier this week from the same Coffee Roasting Company).



Subject: Re: City of Sparks v. White and letter to City Attorney
Date: Sun, 8 Sep 2013 22:07:26 -0700

Dear Robert,
I hope you are aware of further efforts by 3 councilmembers to reduce selling art. It is on Tuesday’s agenda.
MicahSent from my iPad

On Sep 3, 2013, at 9:58 PM, Robert Norse <> wrote:
John:  While I appreciate this fairly boilerplate answer, I do know that in the interests of both fairness and saving the City money, you have clarified the status of certain practices and rights in Santa Cruz in the past.  Robin told me that he conferred with you several years ago after the City of Sparks decision came out, and got your agreement to encourage the SCPD to lay off (to put it gently).   Was I misinformed?
Are you saying that you’ll answer a question for a Council member but not a member of the public about this issue?
Hopefully not.
Since police are still variously misinforming artists on Pacific Avenue that they can’t display prices on their artwork (when they’re not harassing them for other things), I’d again encourage you to simply do what you did before when approached by an artist trying to stop this practice, which unnecessarily lays the city open to litigation.
It is my understanding that the decision is still valid law (one of the attorneys involved actually practices in this area), so please, step out from behind the template and be direct here.
I am also requesting Chief Vogel and the Council contact you for your “advice” here, so I’m not ignoring your suggestion either.Thanks,


Date: Fri, 22 Feb 2013 15:43:58 -0800
Subject: RE: City of Sparks v. White and letter to City Attorney

Robert, I passed your concern along to the Police Department and if it has questions I will do the necessary research and answer them for the department. As you are aware I work for the City Council and the various City departments. I don’t take instructions from, perform work for, or provide opinions to members of the public; nor do I publicly divulge my advice and communications to my clients unless the clients make such  a request. I would suggest that in the future, if you have a complaint or concern concerning a City employee or practice, you contact the responsible City department head. If that department head seeks my advice in connection with your issue, I will be happy to assist him or her. Thanks, JGB


From: Robert Norse []
Sent: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 9:19 AM
To: John Barisone
Cc: Robin the rightsfinder; Ricardo Lopez; Brent Adams; Tom Noddy; Becky Johnson
Subject: RE: City of Sparks v. White and letter to City Attorney


John:  On 2-7, as you probably remember, I sent you an inquiry regarding City of Sparks v. White.  On 2-13, you advised me you hadn’t got to it yet.It’s now a week later and street performers will be attending the HUFF meeting today at the Sub Rosa.

I’d like to be able to advise them if they are acting legally, based on your understanding of the law and the police enforcement policy.

If I don’t hear from you in the next few hours, perhaps later today you can let me know–and I can them contact the performers by e-mail.



— On Thu, 2/7/13, Robert Norse <> wrote:
From: Robert Norse <>
Subject: City of Sparks v. White
To: “John Barisone” <>
Cc: “Robin the rightsfinder” <>, “Jonathan (!) Gettleman” <>, “David Beauvais” <>, “” <>, “Ed Frey” <>, “J.M. Brown” <>, “Alexis of Pier 5” <>, “Ricardo Lopez” <>, “Joe the strummer” <>, “Tom Noddy” <>, “Brent Adams” <>, “Coral (!!!) Brune” <>, “Free” <>, “John Malkin” <>
Date: Thursday, February 7, 2013, 11:05 AM


You may remember Robin coming in to secure an agreement from you that he could resume displaying his artwork on the sidewalk without a permit and without harassment from the SCPD even though he attached price tags.  This was several years ago in response to the City of Sparks v. White ( decision.  He told me that you and he made such an agreement.

Several artists have told me that “Hosts” and SCPD officers have been telling them they’ll be cited if they do what you apparently oked for Robin.  I know Robin also requested an explicit change in the law and to my knowledge and his you never recommended or created it.

I want to know if you’ve change your position here and now regard art work as not First Amendment-protected (as far as explicit pricing goes).  What is the current policy and direction to the SCPD?

This clarification is particularly important because some police officers are not merely banning explicit pricing, but also claiming that showing artwork without a business license is “panhandling” even if it’s done for donation in accord with the explicit exemption of MC 9.10.010(a)  which states “A person is not soliciting for purposes of this chapter when he or she passively displays a sign or places a collection container on the sidewalk pursuant to which he or she receives monetary offerings in appreciation for his or her original artwork or for entertainment or a street performance he or she provides.”

Please let me know what the status of the White decision is regarding city policy as well as assurance that MC 9.10.010(a) is still active law.

Hope you are well.



Subject: Questions
Date: Mon, 2 Sep 2013 07:53:15 -0700


Included for diversion:

What’s the status of the $15,000 portapotty slated to be installed near the Levy?  Why aren’t you proposing that that money be spent instead to open up the Soquel garage bathroom or the San Lorenzo restroom at night?  It would probably be cheaper, more durable, less segregated, and more sensible.

Have you e-mailed your Cruzio server to ask them why the discrimination against homeless client Dan Madison and his son Gryphon?   (See ).  I include Dan’s e-mail (he does a Free Radio show under the name “Sean Deluge”) in case you wish to speak with him directly.


Pleich for City Council in 2014?

Steve Pleich Files for 2014 City Council Race
by Committee to Elect Steve Pleich
Wednesday Jul 10th, 2013 12:08 PM

Local ACLU Vice Chair Announces Candidacy

Vice Chair of ACLU Santa Cruz and recently elected President of the Latino Democrats of Santa Cruz County, Steve Pleich, has filed his papers with the City Clerk declaring his intention to run for City Council in 2014. Pleich, who Continue reading

Sip Soup as you Gag at City Council’s Study Session on Homelessness

Title: Sip Soup as you Gag at City Council’s Study Session on Homelessness
START DATE: Tuesday April 30
TIME: 6:45 PM – 8:45 PM
Location Details:
809 Center St. Santa Cruz City Council Chambers
Event Type: Meeting
Contact Name Robert Norse
Email Address rnorse3 [at]
Phone Number 831-423-4833
Address 309 Cedar PMB #14B Santa Cruz, CA 95060
The Santa Cruz City Council has scheduled a Special “Study” Session on Homelessness.THE COUNCIL’S RECENT RECORD
Hey, April Fool’s day came and went nearly a month ago!

This is the Council that recently voted an Continue reading

City Council’s “Public Safety” Committee Meets Wednesday 5-1 at 6 PM

The “Public Safety” Update below is from the Public Safety Task Force staff, not from the Public Safety Committee.  The Public Safety Committeewhich meets Wednesday at 6 PM is a standing Committee of City Council whose meetings are required to  be open to the public and agendaized 72 hours in advance.It’s not clear whether the Task Force, recently Continue reading

Come Chow Down and Speak Up Tuesday 6:45 PM at Santa Cruz Homelessness “Study” Session

The Santa Cruz City Council has scheduled a Special “Study” Session on Homelessness for 7 PM at 809 Center St. (City Council Chambers) for Tuesday, March 30th.  Only one day short of April Fools day.This is the Council that recently voted an Continue reading

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

Hilary Bryant: Public safety is our top priority

Posted:   02/16/2013 05:17:29 PM PST

Hilary Bryant
Our Santa Cruz community is reeling. Residents, business owners and students have said “enough” to illegal campsites, needles strewn in our parks and beaches, and the recent spike in crime. Deteriorating conditions in our public spaces, along with the recent downtown homicide and the attempted homicide of a UC Santa Cruz student are completely unacceptable. These tragedies and safety concerns are a sharp reminder that we must actively protect our safe and vibrant community. Enough is enough.
As your mayor, I am fully committed to changing course. I want you to know that my fellow City Council members and the city staff are with me; we are all actively working to make Santa Cruz a safe and flourishing community by applying the following measures:
First, we are working diligently to fully staff our Police Department. The year 2012 marked our Police Department’s busiest on record. Santa Cruz police officers responded to over 104,000 calls for service and made 8,300 arrests (16 percent and 50 percent increases over 2011). Our police officers are doing more with less, as they grapple with filling vacant positions. In the meantime, the City Council will provide the department with all the resources and support it needs to be successful.
Second, we must address the illegally discarded needles, illegal campsites and degraded environmental quality of our public spaces. While the causes are complex, complete solutions to these issues require other community and government partners. For many years, city staff has been working on camp abatements; this past summer, they ramped up their efforts. At our Feb. 26 meeting, the City Council is poised to increase abatement funding and to explore further measures that we can take to improve water quality at our beaches.
Third, city staff members are working closely with Santa Cruz County to develop a model needle exchange program. This program must have county oversight, accountability and effective public reporting systems in place. It should provide a true 1-for-1 exchange in a manner that does not impact our neighborhoods, parks, open spaces and beaches. That also includes developing better mechanisms for safe needle disposal.
Once implemented, these tools should alleviate some of the immediate public safety and environmental concerns. We will measure their impacts and report regularly back to the community on our progress. However, we can neither arrest our way out nor clean our way out of the current state of affairs. Persistent drug addiction and drug-related crime factor heavily into our public safety issues. These complex problems require systemic solutions.
Therefore, the fourth and final part of our plan is to assess these systemic problems closely with our regional partners and a citizen task force to create meaningful and lasting solutions. While the city provides law enforcement, it is Santa Cruz County that has jurisdiction over public health, our justice system, courts and jails, and social programs. I believe strongly that only through enhanced city efforts and focused participation from our county sheriff, district attorney, courts, human services agency, and drug-treatment organizations can we develop solutions that address these long-term safety problems. These issues did not arise overnight in Santa Cruz, nor can we say with a straight face that we will resolve them overnight. However, the entire City is committed to this enhanced course of action.
My thanks go out to the community for raising awareness of these issues, and to our Public Safety Committee (Council members David Terrazas, Pamela Comstock and Cynthia Mathews) for developing the safety action plan.
Hilary Bryant is mayor of the city of Santa Cruz.

The Latest from Looneyland: S.C. City Council Goes Medieval

by Robert Norse

Tuesday Feb 12th, 2013 9:44 PM

I had to leave the meeting because I wasn’t feeling well, but I did stay until the end of the Public Comment period on Item #15, The Public Bigotry Committee report. I’m hoping to review the video of the rest of the meeting on the City’s website when it gets posted.

From what I heard and saw, in spite of a few good questions from Lane and Posner, there was no challenging of the abusive behind-closed-doors decision to shut down 1/2 of needle exchange (the half on Barson St.). There were no stats justifying the shutdown presented (though the property owner gave one anecdotal incident where he said he found some clean needles near a point of break-in). No stats for the number of people actually injured by needles. No comparative stats of harm created by restricting needle exchange in terms of the spread of disease.

Just more cops, more drug war, and more stalling by City Council–in terms of any public discussion. It also seems that the Council majority without a vote is acting unilaterally through Terrazas in its planned selection of a Task Force–to be chosen by the Mayor and then operate without public hearings. Terrazas gave a long-winded evasive response to Lane and Posner’s questions, but he finally got the clear answer–it’ll meet in secret, probably selected by the Mayor.

Another issue that was left hanging was whether the Task Force would assume that needle exchange would not be in the downtown or residential area before it started. At this writing the Sentinel (useless sensationalist smearsheet that it’s been on this issue) hasn’t come out with a story.

The S.C. Weekly reporter, however, was so pissed at the steady pattern of prejudice and fearmongering that he got up and made a statement supporting accessible needle exchange himself.

“More conservative” liberals like Mike Rotkin and Steve Pleich declined to endorse needle distribution or “1 plus” needles exchange where more needles were given out than returned, one of the big demands of Analicia Cube, her rep Pamela Comstock on City Council, and Take Back Santa Cruz.

No one made any serious proposals for a shift in the Drug War mentality, though there was lots of meaningless talk about compassion, and drug treatment–but the money, of course, would go for more cops to jail more users to fill up more jails to be released again with no housing to pick up their drug activity, etc.

A number of people denounced the Homeless (Lack of) Services Center as a demonic drug den that had to be shut down. There were angry claims that “most needles and debris” were found within 1/4 mile (or a mile–pick your source) of the HLOSC. I think it was the last speaker, a woman claiming to be a social worker demanded that homeless services be available only to those who registered and were local. I guess tatooing folks on the wrist with ID numbers would be optional.

Not sure what a Strategy for Sanity looks like, but I’ll be pondering it.

And as for whether some drug abusers and needle droppers are homeless–sure. But to let that be the excuse to criminalize homeless survival camps generally is the kind of is a form of badly misguided hatecrime.

The recommendations naturally had nothing specific about putting in bathrooms, requiring pharmacies to have safe needle disposal facilities, or (shudder) establishing safe campgrounds. There was some talk (and that’s what it’ll remain–talk) about how without real housing options, there’s no real drug treatment programs.

And in spite of all the Lane-Martinez buzz about 180/180, this program will impact only a small number of folks.

Looks like homeless people will have to look to themselves and other allies for protection. If Ammiano’s homeless Bill of Rights isn’t too badly weakened (which I fear it may be), that may be a new avenue.

HUFF meets tomorrow 10 AM Sub Rosa Cafe 703 Pacific. Free needles…er…coffee.