As a resident of downtown Santa Cruz, I find it increasingly difficult to feel compassion and empathy for much of the county’s homeless population, despite my strenuous effort to do so. There is no doubt in my mind that city and county residents should be responsible for assisting a certain percentage of the local homeless, such as persons with diagnosed mental disorders, families, elderly and veterans. However, the 2022 homeless census found a 282 percent increase—yes, that is correct, a 282 percent increase—in individuals identifying as having a substance abuse disorder since 2019. This accounts for approximately half of the county’s homeless. As a frequent passer-by of the Benchlands, it’s easy to understand why this incredible increase. We have managed to create a responsibility-free zone; that is, a place where one need not take any responsibility for themselves. We (you) provide everything needed to live reasonably comfortably (food, tents, electricity, port-a-potties, water, clothes). At the same time the homeless are ensured no repercussions for littering (food, needles, feces, tents, propane tanks, chairs, etc.), getting high in public, or camping anywhere they like. If we stay on this path, one can envision another 282 percent increase in individuals with a substance abuse disorder by 2025, many of which will undoubtedly migrate to our city. Ask any substance abuse counselor and they will tell you that the only way for someone to overcome a substance abuse issue is for them to make the decision to do so on their own.
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