Illustration by Joe Lai.
Illustration by Joe Lai.

The homeless of Santa Cruz help our city in surprising ways.

The City Council’s unanimous agreement to endorse the move of the Homeless Garden Project from Natural Bridges Farm to Pogonip City Park is a sound one.

At first glance, the sheer concept of adding homeless people to an already encampment-filled region may sound unconventional. However, reviving a park with dwindling city funds and a naughty drug habit may just be the miracle local enforcement has been looking for.

“Heroin Hill,” a desolate stretch of land that runs along the railroad tracks — decorated with food wrappers and used syringes that garnish the ground like daisies — hosts plenty of drug deals for Pogonip’s parasites.

However, the project’s relocation is necessary, and has been 12 years in the making. City officials plan to house 8.5 acres of crops and orchards along the lower west side of the park — regardless of the area’s standard heroin trade alongside Highway 9.

In an effort to restore serenity to the region, local police and park rangers have meanwhile been doing all they can to suck the black tar venom out of the greenbelt.

With yet another recent drug bust in the area, all Santa Cruzans can really hope for is an eventual eradication of gang and drug activity in the park, and a new refreshing sense of community.

Councilmembers and local law enforcement assert that adding a garden to the area is sure to weed out the heroin and plant some community unity instead.

Just as it’s been doing for years, the Santa Cruz Homeless Garden Project — which began in 1990 — gives the community the chance to extend a shovel or a watering can out to those who lack the luxury of even a roof over their heads.

It is an opportunity for UCSC students and community members to work closely together with the homeless to teach and learn about economic and ecological sustainability and provide potential job training for them.

Hundreds of people already help out in the garden each year, and volunteers work with the homeless for about 20 hours a week.

Naturally, many feel that the garden’s move to Pogonip may also mean a setback in terms of public safety as well as irrigation and native plant and insect protection. But the project leaders plan on using the Pogonip Spring to irrigate the fields instead of tapping into the city’s diminishing water supply.

The garden’s move will also increase connections with the Homeless Services Center, which has shelters and resource centers only blocks away from some of the Pogonip trails.

While the current garden — which moved to its present location in 1998 — is poised to pack up its hoes and spades, the Parks and Recreational Department plans to hire a consultant to perform an environmental review before bringing the final plan back to the council this summer.

Turning a blind eye to our city’s homeless community will never alleviate Santa Cruz from its drug and crime-inflicted wounds—if anything, it will only make matters worse. By allowing our community members to work and learn freely with the homeless, we are planting a seed of integration that can one day bloom into the park that it once was — a Pogonip free of gang activity and rid of its current drug trafficking.