On an industrial section of Delaware Avenue, a core group of cars and campers inhabit the roadside week after week. With a state park to the west and UCSC administrative buildings to the east, those who live and sleep here do so in an attempt to evade the sleeping ban in Santa Cruz, and are generally unbothered by the Santa Cruz police. In a recent development to a contentious issue in Santa Cruz, the city council voted to waive citations of the camping ordinance if offenders were on a wait list at Homeless Shelter Services on the night of their infraction. The change is meant to make homeless living in Santa Cruz a little more tolerable for those seeking shelter.
A camping ban has been in effect in the city for nearly 40 years. Originally intended to keep students off the beaches at night, the rise in the city’s homeless population has transformed the use of the policy. It is now intended to curb the amount of people sleeping on private property, as well as to prevent unwanted disturbances in Santa Cruz communities.
After controversy surrounding the ban this summer, including the Peace Camp protests held since Aug. 10, Mayor Mike Rotkin points out that there have actually been fewer citations than one might expect.
“The vast majority of homeless people on any given night find some place to sleep and don’t get cited,” Rotkin said.
Police do not approach individuals sleeping on the street or in their cars unless someone in the neighborhood has reported them, Rotkin said. Police often give warnings after a complaint is first made. People who move on to another location are generally not cited. However, if they sleep in the same area the next night and a complaint is made with the police, they will be cited.
The exception to this policy has been for people who sleep at City Hall. Though not an issue for much of the policy’s life, the recent demonstrations of sleeping protests at the site have prompted police to patrol the area and issue citations in an attempt to prevent further incidents.
Between Jan. 1 and Sept. 29, 232 citations were issued under Section 6.36.010(A1) for sleeping outdoors between 11:00 p.m. and 8:30 a.m., according to the police department, while 114 citations have been issued under Section 6.36.010(C) for setting up campsites anytime.
Zach Friend, police department spokesperson, said in an e-mail that 100 of the citations were associated with the Peace Camp protest since Aug. 10.
The change was necessary because during the summer months, the Homeless Services Center, with just 46 beds, cannot meet the needs of even five percent of the homeless population in Santa Cruz, estimated to be between 1,000 and 1,200 in the city alone.
“[There] certainly isn’t enough [space] to provide a roof over the head of every homeless person in Santa Cruz,” said Monica Martinez, executive director of Homeless Services Center.
Organizations within the City of Santa Cruz provide more than 100 services for homeless people in our community, ranging from the Homeless Garden Project to local soup kitchens like St. Francis Soup Kitchen. Rotkin said that such programs are useful but must be supplemented by long-term solutions and vocational opportunities.
“A significant number of people come to Santa Cruz and get out of homelessness through our programs,” he said. “We could get a regional solution to this that would allow us to set up regional camping grounds or reestablish the civilian conservation corps.”
However, the latter of these idealistic solutions may not be plausible for homeless people, Martinez said.
“Someone who isn’t housed is not likely to succeed in vocational programs,” she said. “We need to work toward solutions that will house our most in need.”
The sleeping ban isn’t unique to Santa Cruz. Santa Barbara, Santa Monica and Portland are just a few other cities that enforce similar policies. The issue points to a structural problem of our economy, Rotkin said.
“It’s one of the contradictions of capitalism,” Rotkin said. “There’s no piece of land that isn’t owned by somebody.”