.Letter to the Editor: Listen More Deeply

A letter to the editor of Good Times

The tone and tenor of the recent council meeting related to the Oversized Vehicle Ordinance (OVO) reflected deep divisions in our community. However, I believe—after speaking with many voters now, and serving on the Community Advisory Committee on Homelessness (CACH)—many people (housed and unhoused) do care deeply about those who struggle just finding a place to sleep. Homeless advocates are also not all blind to scary and dangerous behaviors on the part of some who are unhoused. (They are just mindful that fully housed people do terrible things too! Crime is not a special feature of this demographic. And so many of the unhoused are kind, creative and wonderful, for the record.) 

We simply cannot move forward as a city or county on homelessness without incorporating homelessness advocate concerns and best practices in all we do. As a former member of the CACH, I am dismayed by the council’s decision to overrule many of the Planning Commissions revisions to the OVO. 

It has been stated at least twice now by council members, including recent letter writer—and my supervisorial campaign opponent (District 3 Supervisor)—Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson, that the OVO somehow is a “recommendation of the CACH.” The CACH never voted to place further penalties on the unhoused—neither through an OVO, nor a camping ordinance. We did not, as a group, feel these to be helpful, practicable, nor even legal. This should be clear to the community.

The decision to “attach” the OVO to safe parking sites, sanitation and wastewater dumping services was a decision of the OVO proponents on the current council. These things do not need to be coupled.

I have heard through conversations with some Westside Neighbors members and others that the feeling is that the community would be more amenable to support safe sleeping sites if ordinances were also passed.

secure document shredding

This may be true, and one strategy, but we come down to the chicken and the egg: Which should come first? Current safe parking sites are not even located on the Westside. I appreciate the council’s and city’s work on safe parking, but it is unfair to deny moving forward on the city’s “tiers” until an OVO is passed. And here we are, once again in a quandary—with housed residents of the Westside and homeless advocates seemingly pitted against one another. 

So, how to proceed so that no one is dehumanized and also young children are not pulled off their bikes riding home from school by desperate looking strangers? I do not believe the city can nor should move ahead without advocate support. Blaming, attacking and tribalism are not going to help.

If we all care, we must dialogue with those who may be our perceived “enemies.” New forms of meeting and dialogue—beyond two minutes at the mic at City Hall—were what I recommended from the CACH for just this reason, and what I promise to pursue as a county supervisor.

Assumptions and accusations have come from everywhere. This comes from fear. Ninety-seven people died in our streets last year. This is why advocates—who spend their days working directly with the unhoused, and know them as fully human—become upset. On the other hand, parents fear for their children and some neighborhoods are overburdened.

We are going to have to listen more deeply to each other and make goodwill concessions, or both the housed and unhoused will continue to suffer.

Ami Chen Mills | Santa Cruz

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  1. I am one of the people who struggles with finding a place to sleep and just wants to be left alone. I do not participate in any illegal activities, my husband and I regularly go up and down Delaware st picking up trash. I have even created nice signs asking other campers to not leave their trash when they move because it’s #1 just gross and disrespectful, and #2 they have provided a dumpster at the end of Delaware (which they finally unlocked last week.) I have been treated very poorly by residents and by law enforcement , like an outsider who isn’t welcome. I’ve lived in Santa Cruz all my life. I’ve watched as it changed and the population exploded along with rent prices. I suffered a series of losses 20 years ago and have been homeless ever since. I have done absolutely everything I can to try to get back indoors. As a mother, no program would help me because I had already put my son with his dad or my parents to keep him from being dragged through the mud with me, but that made me unqualified for all family services they told me, since he was no longer living with me. I never did get him back living with me. The trailer I now have is a big improvement over being forced to sleep in a tent or my vehicle. I have pretty bad health problems from living in my car for 20 years. So the trailer is a big improvement, but I get that some neighbors don’t like the concentration of campers and RVs, especially when they paid 1.5 million for their view. I do everything in my power to obey all the laws regarding travel trailers. On more than one occasion, I’ve had people drive by in their expensive sports cars, yell obscenely and throw trash at my husband or myself, or at my trailer. It’s also very common to have people drive by and lay on their horn while they pass by every time they drive by, just to be obnoxious. The parking abatement officer who I spoke with, and more or less words told me that if I had a brand new trailer I wouldn’t be bothered but since my trailer was older and less visually appealing, I would be harassed until I moved every time. Did you parking volunteers who hand out green tags and put them willy-nilly on every vehicle they deem to be a nuisance nuisance told me that, and I quote, we just go by what people tell us. That is what she said when I asked her how she knew who had been there too long. She has given me a green tag warning to move my vehicle whether or not I have been there 10 hours or 3 days it doesn’t matter, and on every occasion that she has done this, she has skipped giving other people who have been there far longer than me a green tag warning. So she’s just picking on me. I’ve also been told that these volunteers who are deputized to hand out tickets are also old members of the group take back Santa Cruz which is a borderline domestic terrorist organization who break the law regularly, who also reside in the park at the end of Delaware. It seems like a bit of a conflict of interest to me and everyone else. They cherry pick who they’re going to pick on every week. I have put thousands of dollars and many hours of work into making my trailer more visually appealing and it now resembles just another trailer. It has a new paint job. And I do not leave my trash when I move, and I don’t have traffic to my trailer, I keep to myself. I just want to be left alone but I can’t find anywhere to do that. Watching the behavior of the residents, and people who ticket only those who look like they’re living in their vehicles is very disheartening and just unfair. The law is supposed to apply to everybody equally but everybody knows that that doesn’t happen. I just found out that I got $150 storage ticket that I was never actually given they just wrote it and put it in the system so that I couldn’t fight it because I didn’t even know I had it. Obviously I’m not storing my vehicle on public property I’m living in it and I move it every few days which is a giant pain in the ass and of itself. They don’t give us options and that’s why people are angry. I would go I don’t know him to say that’s why the campers in that neighborhood behave the way that they do because they don’t care anymore cuz it doesn’t matter what they do they’re treated like garbage anyway. I do acknowledge that there are some who behave in ways that are less than savory. But I think it’s a culture problem. If the culture was more inclusive I think people would be less inclined to behave badly because it wouldn’t be the status quo. The culture of adversarial and tribal attitudes has not got enough anywhere. I’m considering running for city government just based purely on the fact that I have been on both sides and I have seen the way other cities do things in Santa Cruz is one of the worst run cities I have ever seen. I almost situation is not getting any better and all people do is sit around and talk about it, nothing is actually done. The solution of letting people camp in the park, basically making it a wild west free-for-all was a horrible idea. People now come from out of town to be homeless at the park. Meanwhile there’s a good chunk of us who have been trying for years to get back indoors to no avail. We work we do everything that every other normal resident does except for when we go to sleep at night it’s in our vehicles. There has to be better options. If you go to San Diego there are safe sleeping parking lots where you can cook and use the restroom. Sanitation problems immediately alleviated. These things aren’t going away and they’re not getting better they need to be addressed. They’re also needs to be a clear and realistic path to becoming housed again. When I lived in Austin for a period of time years ago, they were building tiny homes that were affordable to rent and people were required to rent them or sell them to other people in need of housing. Housing is supposed to be a basic human right, and I have personally been denied that right we’re almost 20 years for one reason or another. I lost my entire youth I missed out on raising my son because I couldn’t get indoors despite my best efforts. I tried so hard. Now I’m just tired and getting older. My health problems have kept me from working full-time. I’m barely making it and no one is helping me. It seems like Santa Cruz just wants me dead.


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