Sea Change for Homeless Response
By: Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson
The number one issue that our community members bring up to me is homelessness. This was echoed in a recent city poll. No matter how old or young, or where people are on the political spectrum, homelessness is at the top of people’s minds and touches the heart of nearly every resident.
The realities of street homelessness grow harsher as the scourge of fentanyl and methamphetamine continue to ravage our community, literally killing people on our streets and impacting those who are unhoused, housed, in our neighborhoods and in our open spaces.
As a member of the Santa Cruz City Council, I hear the cries for help. They are compassionate about helping those in need and frustrated by the lack of response. I am writing to celebrate that recently we demonstrated a significant shift in how we as a community are approaching this complex and growing issue.
The current council majority of five including myself, Mayor Brunner, Vice Mayor Watkins, Former Mayor Meyers and Councilmember Golder, embarked on an ambitious effort to find effective responses to homelessness that emphasize balancing accountability, management and response to truly address the problems.
Our past approach of pointing fingers and playing the blame game, waiting for the perfect solution—and simply being paralyzed by the enormity of the issue—has done nothing to address the problem. For far too long, our inaction has allowed human suffering and public health and safety impacts to continue unabated for both the housed and unhoused community members.
We are now approaching our work collaboratively with the county and community-based organization partners. As former Mayor and Councilmember Don Lane said during his public comment at this week’s council meeting, this approach demonstrates “an unprecedented sea change.”
Instead of a piecemeal approach, we have embarked on a deeply collaborative citywide effort to create a holistic roadmap. The passing of the Camping Services and Standards Ordinance as well as the Oversized Vehicle Ordinance were the impetus that shaped the now unanimously approved and adopted Santa Cruz City Homeless Response Action Plan. The leadership of our Former Mayor Donna Meyers and our State representatives Senator Laird and Assembly Member Stone have brought in $14.5 million to help us with these efforts. We are also grateful for the tremendous effort put forth by our City staff from across all departments.
These ordinances and the solutions that accompany them are accomplishing the following: fewer people on the streets; fewer large encampments; more people sheltering and receiving basic services; safe parking; fewer vehicles overnight on city streets and neighborhoods; restored parks, including San Lorenzo Park; and ultimately more people housed and in treatment and a greater sense of health and safety for all community members.
We are no longer frozen by the scope of the problem. We are no longer on a path of inactivity that pretends having unhoused people on our streets is humane for the unhoused or the community at large. We are taking action.
I am under no false pretenses that these ordinances and this Homeless Response Action Plan will “solve” our homelessness challenges. But it is a significant effort in the right direction. It is our commitment. It is a “sea change.”