After Tent City

sanlorenzoSanta Cruz homeless land back on the streets


The homeless people who were camping in San Lorenzo Park are once again returning to life before Occupy Santa Cruz. The Armory, a shelter in Santa Cruz that offers up beds for homeless people during the winter, tells GT that they’ve seen a 50 percent increase in capacity since Thursday, Dec. 8. The shelter is now almost at full capacity.

The 2011 Santa Cruz County Homeless Census and Survey reported that the local homeless population had increased by 22 percent since 2009. In 2011, 77 percent of the homeless people observed in Santa Cruz were unsheltered. Currently, there are not nearly enough beds offered in homeless shelters around Santa Cruz to house the entire homeless population. More than 2,700 homeless people were counted in the county in the 2011 census, although the agencies behind the project estimate that more than 9,000 persons experience homelessness each year in Santa Cruz County.

“There are good [homeless] services [in Santa Cruz] in some respects yet there is clearly not sufficient shelter and supportive housing,” says Vice Mayor Done Lane. “I would add that this is a problem in virtually every community in the country—there are limited resources locally and nationally to provide some basic services.”

GT talked with a homeless man named Dave, who explains that he preferred staying in Santa Cruz despite the limited availability of shelter space. “It’s less violent here than in bigger cities like Oakland or San Francisco,” he says. “Lately I’ve just been camping in more hidden away places in the park. As long as you wake up early, you don’t typically get found and cited.”

He speaks of the encampment in San Lorenzo Park, which he dubs “Tent City,” fondly, and feels that, in many ways, it was like a community. “I’m surprised that the county let it go on for so long actually,” he says. “But people looked out for each other there. Sure, there were fights, but we were able to work it out with each other. More people should’ve taken responsibility for cleaning up the area though.”

Another local homeless man, who identified himself as Lynn, tells GT that the end of the San Lorenzo Park occupation has led to a Diaspora of homeless. “Now more people are going to be spread out, over in places at the boardwalk and such,” he says. “I guess that becomes a problem when more tourists come in to Santa Cruz, but that probably won’t be until the summer.”  

Lane offers his personal thoughts on the issues that were raised by the camp at San Lorenzo Park: “The encampment [at San Lorenzo Park] helped with the nationwide Occupy effort to raise general economic issues of income inequality, large corporations’ excessive influence over our national government and an unfair tax system,” he says. “It also raised the issue of whether maintaining an encampment is, in fact, a first amendment issue. And it highlighted the issue of how many people live on the street in our area.”

In another interview, GT asked a homeless veteran named Rick if he feels that the encampment and protest at San Lorenzo changed anything. He believes it hasn’t. “I’m fed up,” Rick says. “In the end, the camp didn’t stand for anything. I’m still in the same situation I was in before Occupy Santa Cruz got going.” He adds that a number of OSC members, including him, are planning on heading to Oakland soon to go help with the Occupy movement there.

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