The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors last Tuesday approved a proposal to temporarily move a shuttle pickup spot for homeless people to the parking lot of the Main Jail.
The plan, which was approved for six months, is expected to take up about 25 parking spaces in the already crowded lot.
Currently, homeless riders are shuttled from a pick-up spot at Front and Laurel streets to the 55-bed shelter at 1721 Laurel St.
The move came in part at the request of the Community Advisory Committee on Homelessness (CACH), whose members say that the new spot has room for a rain shelter, as well as a temporary restroom and a storage facility. It will also include a security guard.
Raphael Sonnenfeld, founder of Friends of Depot Park, was one of two people to speak in favor of the plan during the meeting.
“It’s going to help improve the ability for health and human services to potentially serve a vulnerable population, and makes our Laurel Street shelter program more accessible,” he said. “If we can keep this program going and locate it to a place that reduces impacts on the greater community, and serves the population better, I think our community will be better off overall.”
County employees displaced from the parking lot will get parking passes at no cost, or be given other options.
The approval came despite objections from Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart, who said that the plan is not compatible with the facility.
“The county jail is the most critical piece of infrastructure we have, in that we house 400 people there every single day,” he said. “There’s prison buses, there’s county jail buses from all over the state coming and going, 10,000 bookings a year, 20,000 visitors per year.”
Hart also expressed concern that the plan will be a burden for county employees who depend on the lot.
“All of our staff that help us run county government use that parking lot to get to work every day,” he said. “To expect them to walk from River Street or some other location to get to work is asking too much of our staff. That parking lot was built for our staff so that they could support all of us to run their departments.”
Hart also said that he was not consulted about the plan.
Sheriff’s Sgt. Travis Huntsman, who represented the Deputy Sheriff’s Association, said he is worried about the safety and security issues that could come with the change.
“It is not the proper location for this community service,” he said. “Homelessness is certainly not criminal in nature. However, many of the homeless populace in Santa Cruz County is impacted by nefarious activity, such as drug use, violent crime and suffer from mental health issues.”
These problems, he said, create unpredictable, violent and irrational behavior.
“This raises significant safety concerns for the public, as well as individuals utilizing public services,” Huntsman said.
Serg Kagno, who serves on CACH, rejected the comparison.
“It hurts me a bit for people to talk about the safety of employees, and assuming homeless are dangerous to them, and nobody talks about the safety of the homeless people,” Kagno said. He added that the current intake site is unmanaged, and can require the homeless people who use the service to wait in the rain.
Issues such as parking, Kagno said, can be worked out.
“Let’s move forward for city and county working together to design something, and not every time we have a space we say, ‘Yes, but not this space,’” he said.
The proposal, which was on the consent calendar, passed with only Supervisor Greg Caput in opposition.
The details of the plan are still being worked out.