By Naomi R. Rodriguez
Politics & Culture Reporter and Editor

Equal and compassionate treatment for homeless residents of Santa Cruz has been an ongoing battle for over two decades. With a deficit of $7 million, the city of Santa Cruz is having a harder time accommodating its approximately 1,500 homeless residents.

Though the city maintains a shelter and several programs for homeless victims, city ordinances and a lack of resources have made finding stability more difficult for the homeless residents who are unable to get into shelters and programs.

“There is no place to go until you get accepted, and people have to move out before someone can move in,” said Mia, who has been homeless for a little over a month. Mia has been waiting to be accepted into the Rebele shelter for about a week. A certified nursing assistant from Olympia, Wash., she moved to Santa Cruz hoping to land a job on arrival.

In 1998, eight members of the Homeless Issues Task Force (HITF) came together at the request of the Santa Cruz City Council to study homeless issues. In 2000 they presented a report to the council with the following recommendation:

“Santa Cruz has among the highest rents relative to income in the nation. Many of the homeless are regularly, or even fully, employed and still cannot afford to rent a home. We recommend that the city adopt rent stabilization as a means of preventing new homelessness and as a means of assisting currently homeless people back into housing.”

According to the National Relocation profile, the average annual household income in Santa Cruz is $20,000.

The HITF report continued, “We recommend that the city create safe, legal sleeping zones as there is clearly not enough appropriate indoor shelter, and those sleeping outside are subject to the threat of citation and arrest and the threat of violence.”

Those who attended last week’s City Council meeting on Nov. 25 showed strong concern for the imminent loss of jobs, reduced hours and quality of social service programs. Social Services alone is looking at $90,844 in proposed cuts.

Mayor Ryan Coonerty dismissed the council meeting, which is set to resume Dec. 9 with another round of budget cuts.

“People need to understand the situation we are in, the work week may change to 30 hours,” councilmember Mike Rotkin said.

Don Lane, re-elected on Nov. 4 to the City Council after a 16-year hiatus, was the staff coordinator of the HITF for the report in 2000, served as the mayor to Santa Cruz from 1988 to 1992, and has worked with the Rebele Family Shelter (RFS) for 14 years.

“I’m probably the most involved with how we deal with our homeless,” Lane said. “I don’t think that the City Council is very interested.”

Lane has already seen the RFS forced to discontinue weekend meals due to budget cuts. There are only enough resources for about 400 homeless residents.

“[There are] more people wanting services and less money coming in for those services,” Lane said.

Robert Norse, a longtime journalist, radio personality and founder of Homeless United for Friendship and Freedom (HUFF), has been a critic of the City Council and a homeless civil rights supporter since the late ’80s.

On Nov. 2, Norse asked for a religious sermon being played over the Metro Station speakers to be turned off. They turned it off, but then asked Norse to leave. When he refused, the police were called and Norse received a citation for “refusing to leave a business.”

Norse, despite being told by councilmember Rotkin that fliering was illegal, orchestrated a public demonstration on Nov. 26 with the support of HRO and HUFF. He handed out fliers and requested to speak to a customer service representative.

No representative from the Metro showed up, and Norse could not obtain a reason for being pushed off the premises.

“The homeless and subculture in Santa Cruz are the ones that are being affected by the ordinances,” said Mario Guzman, a fourth-year UCSC student who attended the protest. “They’re not getting tickets for dealing drugs or harming people, they are getting tickets for trying to build shelter in the rain and standing too close to change machines.”

On Saturday, Dec. 6, HUFF and supporters will host a “sleep-out” in symbolic protest of the ordinances and unfair treatment of homeless residents at the Human Rights Fair at the Louden Nelson Community Center.

“The problem is you have a bunch of people who are a part of the Democratic Party who persuade themselves they are very liberal,” Norse said. “They vote for Obama, they are in favor of getting out of Iraq, they are members of the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), but when it comes to the local issue of poverty and poor people, they are as bad as the Republicans.”