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.
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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