Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Tenacious Peace Camp braces for what comes next
by Becky Johnson
July 27, 2010
Santa Cruz, Ca. -- In what has become an amazement even to themselves, Peace Camp 2010 is still happening, having completed its twenty-third night on Monday night. And not a single citation has yet to be issued. "We're trying to keep a handle on things here," offers one of the Camp's organizers, "Curbhugger" Chris Doyon, "but it's like herding cats." Doyon and others each take a four hour shift to guard the porto-pottie left each night by local attorney, Ed Frey.
Mayor Mike Rotkin, interviewed by KSBW Television, told interviewer, Phil Gomez "I must say that what's happening at the County Bldg. certainly proves my point that I've been making for decades, now. If you give people any ability to camp out of doors, it will expand to a level where you won't be able to handle it."
But is that the case? On July 4th, 3 activists slept out with six homeless people making the number sleeping there the first night as nine. Then following night, thirteen slept out. On July 6th, 20 slept out. On July 7th, 30 slept out. On July 8th 27, slept out. But on July 9th, only 20. On July 10th, 21 slept out. July 11th, 24 slept out. July 12th, 22 slept out. July 13th, 29 slept out. July 14, 27 and one kitten slept out. July 15th, 18 humans and 1 kitten and one dog. On July 16th, 28 slept out. On July 17th, 28 people, 1 kitten and 1 dog. July 18th, 27 people, 1 kitten and 1 dog. July 19th, 31 people, 1 kitten and 2 dogs. July 20th 26 people, 2 dogs, and 1 kitten. July 21st, 33 people, 1 dog and 1 kitten. July 22nd, 30 people and 1 dog. But on July 23rd, the number jumped to 45 people, 1 dog and 1 kitten. July 24th 47 people. July 25th, there were 55 people, 1 dog, and 1 kitten. On the night of July 26th, 52 people, 4 dogs, and 1 kitten. So far Peace Camp 2010 has provided a total of 662 shelter/sleeping spaces by utilizing existing public facilities and augmenting this with volunteer labor and a donated porto-pottie providing a clean, well-lit area for legally sleeping for an average of 29 people per night.
The census for Peace Camp 2010, taken every night, does show that the numbers are increasing, but not steadily. It appears that there is a core group of about 30 people who regularly sleep there with a fluctuating population of both travelers and young people. The biggest jump in numbers was triggered by police sweeps along the river levee which drove a number of displaced people to the courthouse steps from another part of the City.
Max, Danny, and Brian arrived as refugees from one of those sweeps. "They told us that anything we left behind would be destroyed," they told HUFF members. "We're glad we're here. Last night I had the best night of sleep I've had in a long, long time," Danny said.
But along with the street kids, several chronic alcoholics have also arrived with their debris, noise, and unsteady gaits. While Peace Camp 2010 asks that participants refrain from using alcohol or hard drugs while on site, there is no way to prevent those who come from using. Even at 3AM, a rowdy group of drinkers, new to the site that night, talked and bellowed long into the night disturbing the sleep of dozens who slept there.
Internal frictions have also arisen. A group of homeless hoarders has alienated itself from the rest of Peace Camp and has set up on the little traffic island in front of the courthouse. Despite no longer being part of Peace Camp, they still utilize the porto-pottie. A pregnant woman who had found housing briefly, was back again last night. She looks as though she is very close to delivering. Another woman went by ambulance to the hospital and came back in a cab the same day. "They just don't have any better place to put me," she said.
Blankets remain in short supply with a few who come in late at night with nothing to keep them warm. HUFF members help out as much as they can, but there never seems to be enough.
Are homeless people from Maine to Florida, to Los Angeles, to Seattle arriving daily to sleep on the courthouse steps?? In a word: no. But those who've been moved along from various parts of town are finding their way to the steps, and finding a warm welcome: something they forgot exists for them.
On Sunday morning, the parking lot quickly filled with cars as thousands participated in the annual Wharf to Wharf race. Suddenly, a long line formed at Ed's Porto-pottie, as the runners lined up to empty their bladders prior to the race.
"I'd have liked to have accomodated them" Chris told HUFF, "but the porto-pottie was already badly in need of service and I had to lock them out explaining that it was there for the folks who were sleeping out with us. There were some tense moments." Chris ended up calling Ed Frey who drove down and removed the porto-pottie ending the standoff.
"Those people got a little taste of what it's like for us all the time, trying to find a place where we can use the toilet. This time the shoe was on the other foot."
Ed Frey talked with HUFF members and campers and determined that with the increased use, the solution is simply to have it serviced more often.
Mayor Rotkin claims this increase was "inevitable" and predicted by him "for decades" but in the end, it appears that Peace Camp 2010 is serving the same number of people Rotkin had no problem leaving out in the cold for decades and the major influx coming from the City driving folks from other areas of the City. I could "predict" what I am doing too.