After two weeks of a temporary restraining order halting any attempts to clear the houseless encampment in the San Lorenzo Park, Judge Susan van Keulen ruled in favor of the Santa Cruz Homeless Union on Jan. 20. The preliminary injunction, granted by Judge van Kuelen, prohibits the city from taking any measure to clear the park and will be reevaluated on March 16. 

“Everybody is very happy, but we’re also really exhausted from putting in everything that we have into this,” said Pan*, a San Lorenzo Park resident who has been living unhoused in Santa Cruz for the past year.

Underpinning Judge van Keulen’s ruling was the unprecedented public health situation created by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The CDC guidelines are clear and direct,” wrote Judge van Keulen in her ruling. “Where there is no alternative housing available, leave the encampments to remain where they are to prevent the potential for infectious disease spread.” 

According to the Jan. 20 ruling, both the Santa Cruz Homeless Union and the city acknowledged there were no options available in Santa Cruz shelters or managed camps for displaced San Lorenzo park residents. 

The ruling also acknowledged that vacant shelter beds are filled quickly from a prioritized referral pool, which does not prioritize San Lorenzo park residents.

Additionally, the ruling stated that the San Lorenzo encampment’s central location and hygiene resources — specifically handwashing stations, showers, and medical services — were critical to ensuring the safety of its residents. While housing is not considered a federal right, the separation of houseless individuals from these resources could be considered “irreparable damage” according to the ruling. 

“The relocations and displacement are so detrimental to mental and emotional health,” said Pan. “This decision is important because constantly being harassed, and displaced, and talked down to and about by the media, the police, the people who live across the street or whatnot, it’s demoralizing, it’s traumatizing, it’s dehumanizing, and it’s hurtful.”

The court noted that the COVID-19 pandemic, while at an all-time high in terms of infection rates, is an evolving situation. With the rollout of the vaccine, the future of the encampment is uncertain.

The ruling comes with the caveat that both the City Manager’s office and the Homeless Union file a joint status report on March 9 with a hearing to be set on March 16 to reevaluate the situation at the houseless encampment. 

For now, San Lorenzo residents are enjoying what Pan described as a celebratory day.

“Last night, I was really scared because we would have had to move all these people and we don’t have anywhere to move that wouldn’t just get swept again,” said Pan. “I’m really grateful that this time the [houseless] community can see there are people fighting for them.”

*Source requested to omit their last name to protect their privacy.