Monday, August 30, 2010

Homeless Services Center Board Visit and Muni Code 6.36.010.

by Lighthouse Linda with additional notes by Robert Norse

Attorney Ed Frey, Robert Norse of bagel-serving fame, and I attended a meeting of the Board of Directors, Homeless Services Center, Coral St, Santa Cruz. I went on behalf of a few people I've met, Peace Camp 2010 campers, currently trying to sleep under loud kleig lights, in the front brickwork lip of City Hall park. Also my own concerns about the breadth of this city's anti-public-sleeping law compelled me there.

We are concerned about this City's mean policies around dismissing sleep tickets given sleepers in public when there is no available shelter nor other safer alternative for them. Requiring a homeless person who is sleeping outside in public, or perhaps "camping", or covering with a blanket, to get awakened by the force of police for a "crime" they cannot avoid committing without harming themselves, is abusive on it's face.

Yet the worst is yet to come: in order to deal with the ticket for camping outside, the victim being accused of this sleep crime has to get ON the court docket -- or pay it, and the price goes UP if they get a second, and jail is the price after the third one. Would they be able to pay a ticket for sleeping if they are not able to find better shelter? For most people I've met, no.

Then they must get to court and defend their status as actual humans who need to sleep in order to live, and they must show the judge that on the night of their sleep crime n citation, there were no available shelter beds available to them.

The necessity defense: "Your Honor, I need to sleep." This means, because of a snide agreement between the City Attorney and City Council members in 1997 (?) that they THEN must go to the shelter system before they can defend themselves effectively, to show they had no other choice that night.

A huge aspect of this alleged system the Homeless Services enter, both is near downtown and is offering a panoply of services. The cited sleeper has to get a FORM LETTER that discloses the frequently true fact that there was NO SHELTER BED available when she got her ticket for sleeping.

The Homeless Services Center's five or more primary programs provide many services to homeless people who are their clients, including meals, laundry washing, lockers, mail pickup, and even -- yes -- shelter for both special needs folks and simply houseless folks. But these services re limited relative to the homeless population here.

The County can be proud of HSC's diversity of services, with the capstone of a very special family shelter, long absent in this half of the area. But they are not an emergency shelter except in winter, with the state-mandated Armory program and it's shuttle service.

Not an emergency shelter.

Give me a break! When I was homeless, this kind of make-work, running people around -- people often with no car and less than daily bus fare -- into the ground, contributed greatly to my present physical condition, which is crippled. I see people becoming destroyed in even worse ways than this because of inane policies which were originally intended to cover up secret goals. This goal was simply a sweeping of the downtown streets of poor, different, and homeless people.

But it does much more than sweep people away. It harms them. And the people who create these nonsensical procedural hoops never go back and see how it's working, unless they are forced to. So I believe we who consider ourselves citizens and humane need to force this question, and we need to help with reparations for the harm done for the past decade to people noosed by such "criminal" citations.

Robert, Ed and I attended the Board of Directors meeting because the week before, we were not able to persuade staffers, on behalf of a PeaceCamp2010 regular, who also has health care needs being unmet, to provide a preventive letter similar in scope to the one cited sleepers must get for court. It was Norse's idea that if police were notified when they come to ticket or arrest campers, that there is no emergency shelter available, they'd be obliged to "lighten up."

But it was not to be. Even the County Sheriff's Deputies, as careful as they were, presumed when they used the City's anti-sleep ordinance (!?!) that it was prestrung to City procedures. "NO," said the otherwise helpful Daniel to our client-driven request the week before, "I can only give out this letter filled out (with cite numbers and name of "criminal") after the fact." Leaving us to seek a higher authority to attempt to change the policy.

Personally, I believe the nonprofit Board, though legally responsible for it's programs, will not be able to budge because they got their protocol from the City, which promotes and helps provide for it's fiscal base. As the Board includes a sitting City Council member, this is not particularly wrong, just dangerously sad. So I joined the other two advocates, one sharp on justice and the other wise about civil rights, to appeal to HSC's Board.

We were welcomed and asked to introduce ourselves, to the 8 or 9 directors present, one telephonically. There was no quorum, yet as soon as the introductions became explicit, and we WERE asking for a policy change, discussion was ended. Helpfully, the meeting chair suggested she and Norse have a meeting with the police chief to explore the problem.

I felt her offer was intended, wisely, to protect the integrity of the meeting atmosphere, and to free her board to discuss the agenda that they would not be able to act upon. I would have liked to speak to people while they were listening, rather than being limited to "introductions." Nonetheless, we completed a step in this wonderland of anti-homeless horrors. Like homeless people who come here, we have to jump through the next set of hoops, knowing we will again not be heard.

Notes by Robert Norse:

Linda Lemaster is a formerly homeless mom who has served as Chair of the City's Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women and its Homeless Issues Task Force. The full HITF report can be found at ,

As of 8-30, the Homeless Services Center has so far declined to issue a general letter certifying what its representatives have said in court--that there has been no walk-in emergency shelter since April 15 and won't be any until November 15, if the Winter Armory Shelter opens.

HSC Executive Director Monica Martinez also clarified at the 8-19 HSC Board of Directors meeting that the HSC will not issue a letter stating that they had no shelter on any particular night--even if they didn't have any shelter--unless (a) a person has gotten a ticket from the police, and (b) the person was signed up on a waiting list for the particular night.

Attorneys Ed Frey and Kate Wells, as well as Linda Lemaster hope to meet with Board of Directors chair Sally Williams in early September.

This seems to me to be a delaying tactic that avoids responsibility for current policy. Williams says she wants to explore some agreement with the police that they will check with the HSC before issuing citations (a proposal by Frey). Williams also seems to be interested in having a staff member available to clarify that on any night shelter is or isn't available (though this is largely superfluous since it isn't available almost invariably).

The problem lies in Williams and Martinez's not issuing a letter of shelter insufficiency and changing the "no letters unless you're a part of our group" policy.

Since Martinez and Williams are continuing the current policy, they are penalizing all homeless people and colluding with a police policy that ignores the lack of shelter in order to give the police power and legitimacy to issue citations for something we all need to do--sleep.

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