Santa Cruz Metropolis Council Approves Ordinance on Homeless Tenting

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Santa Cruz City Council passed a homeless ordinance Tuesday that restricts camping in most parts of the city but requires a safe sleep program and daytime storage before the rules can take effect.

The ordinance passed 5-2, with Councilors Justin Cummings and Sandy Brown disagreeing.

Planning Director Lee Butler said the rules were created to remove the impact of large camps and to determine a time, place and manner for camping to take place.

The regulation, known as the Camping Services and Standards Ordinance, prohibits most campsites in the city. This rule takes effect when the city provides at least 150 “safe sleeping places”. It is unclear where these will be, but according to the regulation, they will not be next to schools. They can’t be placed next to residential neighborhoods either, but it wasn’t clear on Tuesday how that would be determined.

In cases where neighborhoods will be affected, the city will reach out to neighbors extensively, Butler said.

The city is currently looking for a provider that would run the program.

The other rules include:

  • The ordinance prohibits daytime camping, which takes effect when the city sets up an item retention program.
  • People can sleep in their vehicles in the parking lots of churches – and businesses in non-residential areas of the city – with the written consent of the owner or administrator.
  • Failure to do so will result in a $ 20 fine or charitable service.
  • The rules do not apply to families with children under the age of 18, and the homeless with a “qualified disability” can get help from city or county workers to find shelter.
  • In addition, the regulation includes a quarterly census and biannual reviews, as well as a report of arrests and citations that take place at the sanctioned campsites.

The discussion included more than an hour of input from speakers.

Tom Brown of the Seabright Strong neighborhood group called the ordinance “a really good start to a really tough and unrelenting problem.”

“But I think it’s the right approach,” he said.

The ban on sleeping places near schools and in residential areas is a good addition that the group deserves.

Robert Singleton, speaking for the Santa Cruz County Business Council, said the group supports the rules because it offers more housing options, among other things.

“This is a big problem that every single jurisdiction, large or small, faces,” he said. “So we absolutely need a unified, concerted state and national effort to solve a major problem.”

But not everyone supported the regulation. Serg Kagno of Stepping up Santa Cruz said that the enforcement aspect essentially criminalizes people for a situation that is often not their fault.

“This regulation continues to marginalize people with mental health problems, trauma and poverty,” he said.

The focus should be on “trauma-informed care”. This is the philosophy that people in adverse situations like homelessness are likely to have had some type of trauma in their past.

“Not all people who are homeless are criminals,” he said. “They live in poverty, have medical, mental, domestic violence and trauma problems.”

Kagno added that the rules don’t take into account the high levels of care that some homeless people require.

“Why does this regulation make homelessness illegal?” he asked. “Criminalize crime, don’t criminalize being poor and homeless.”

Mayor Donna Meyers said the regulation was built out of a lengthy process and came to the council five times. Council members, she said, have received thousands of letters, hundreds of phone calls, and held meetings with community members.

“It might not be perfect, it might not be what we all want, but this is a regulation that has gone through a process of deliberation,” she said.

Brown said she turned down the application because the city still doesn’t have a plan for the safe sleep program.

“Getting the regulation passed when we don’t even know if we can actually do the things we need to do to operationalize the regulation really seems like a cart in front of the horse to me and potentially defeating ourselves,” said you .

Brown also said the city should focus on intervention rather than rule enforcement.

Cummings said he wanted the community to be more involved in creating the rules and asked for two more public meetings, a motion that was denied.

“I believe if we create laws that will affect people’s lives. Especially when it comes to one of the most controversial topics in the community, we need as much input as possible, ”he said.

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