Written by Konnor Long (News Writer)
Santa Cruz County programs currently hold 600 more homeless individuals than it was able to last March. At its surface, it seems that Santa Cruz County has greatly improved its infrastructure — but many community members fear the controversial new ordinances that would limit the freedom of homeless individuals to live outdoors, which could reverse much of the emergency framework that has developed during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The ordinance — proposed simply as the “Temporary Outdoor Living” ordinance — was approved last Wednesday. The rules outlined in the package will be enforced in their full capacity on April 13th, and will dramatically change the way in which local law enforcement is allowed to deal with homeless encampments in the area.
When first proposed on February 23rd, 2021, the city council received over 700 pages of citizen commentary, many of which expressed discontent with the proposal. Sabrina Holber, a Westside resident expressed that “the solution for houseless individuals is to actually house them and not criminalize them.” Other members of the community have shown support for the ordinance, describing it as a way of protecting specific wildlife and scenic areas from any potential waste residue left behind by such camps.
Once enacted, the ordinance would be able to regulate the conditions of living to the largest extent that Santa Cruz County has seen. Certain regulations include the ability to determine what would be allowed on property sanctioned for campsites, regulation of all non-essential items owned by members of the camp, and designating city-owned property to “safe sleeping” areas.
Santa Cruz County Supervisors Manu Koenig and Ryan Coonerty recently proposed an alternative framework that aimed to focus public initiative toward organizations in the area that would be able to create temporary infrastructure to support the demand for housing by homeless residents. During the two supervisor’s district meetings last Tuesday, they outlined the public proposal and explained its method which would allow local community-oriented organizations to receive permits on temporary housing infrastructure, which would be set up on unused county property.
More than 1,100 people are being housed through 180 / Together, a local housing initiative that began nearly 9 years ago. The program, directed by local activist Phil Kramer, was able to combat certain safety and health concerns surrounding the state of Santa Cruz County’s unhoused population. Their comprehensive plan addresses many potential needs that remain unmet in the ordinance, such as substance addiction, and unregulated mental health disorders that Kramer says must always be accounted for.
When asked about the hurdles facing local organization’s ability to house individuals, Kramer said “Sometimes we have enough vouchers. ‘Great—we have enough vouchers!’ But I don’t have enough case managers to go along with the voucher and the program participant.” The Housing Authority of Santa Cruz County was able to increase local rental rates by 24%, would be more likely to rent off sections of housing to homeless initiatives, with little to no financial risk Many local tenants remain staunchly against ordinances that would limit the control over their ability to rent off sections freely and have expressed discontent toward the county sector’s campaign.
In preparation, the city had originally intended to clear out two of the largest tent encampments in Santa Cruz. After a Grassroots activism campaign led by citizens expressing discontent toward the plan, a court order was issued which blocked the city’s ability to follow through with their initial plan.
At this stage in the proposals, it’s unclear as to the impact this will have on public spaces. Many council members anticipate that there will be revisions in the plan as the effectiveness of the ordinance becomes more clear.