NOTE TO READER: Tonight, July 8, 2010, there are exactly 46 shelter spaces (32 for men, 14 for women) available for temporary, emergency shelter for a homeless person walking in off the street. The estimate of 1500 homeless people, while fluctuating on a day to day basis, is generally agreed upon by the City, Service providers, and activists. A study which "proves" shelters are "only 84% full" misrepresents the reality of the situation. Only families in remission from drugs and alcohol can use the family shelter. Only working single adults with income can use the Page Smith Transitional housing program. Only battered women can use the battered womens' shelter. Others have difficult requirements such as the Jesus, Mary, and Joseph shelter, where clients are expected to maintain a vow of silence.
As We See It: Misguided mission
Homeless advocates have set up camp at the County Government Center for four days now. They argue the so-called sleeping ban in the city of Santa Cruz, which outlaws camping in the city, in cars or under the stars, between 11 p.m. and 8:30 a.m., criminalizes homelessness and denies those on society's margins the most basic of human rights.
It's a tired argument we've heard before, especially in Santa Cruz, where city leaders are hardly down on the downtrodden.
It's a nice picture the activists paint, that those struggling to put a shelter over their heads should be able to pitch a tent in some out-of-the-way spot, spend the night and move along. But it's not reality.
There are problems inherent with homeless campers: the human waste left in the neighborhoods and parks, the trash.
That protesters have a portable toilet on hand and stress they are picking up litter seems a tacit admission that the complaints that invariably accompany homeless campers are valid. Are organizers planning to haul a toilet to every illegal camp site in the city?
The city of Santa Cruz, and this community as a whole, is as compassionate as any when it comes to dealing with the homeless.
There are hundreds of beds and numerous programs aimed at helping the homeless. City officials estimate that through city programs and a partnership with area churches, there are at least 400 beds available each night, and a recent report found the shelters averaged about 84 percent capacity.
The city attorney, meanwhile, will dismiss any citation handed out for illegal camping provided all available beds at the various shelters around the city were full at the time.
So what do the activists want? They say they will remain until the city scraps the sleeping ban or creates a safe and expanded shelter.
That's simply not going to happen.
Protests are by their very nature publicity grabs. We traffic in them and understand they can serve a valuable purpose -- to shine light on an underreported issue. It's just that this one seems especially poorly thought out.
Protesters wanted a showdown with city officials, but in setting up on county property, they chose one of the few spots around the city where the county Sheriff's Office holds jurisdiction. That means the roughly one dozen campers are actually not in violation at all, at least of a camping ordinance.
Activists might want to move this one along.