What started out as a long discussion over housing the homeless suddenly turned into a bloody mess, thanks to the Internet.
Helbard Alkhassadeh, a photographer and the man behind the site StabSantaCruz.com, penned a post this month about possible sanctuary camps called “Santa Cruz Is About to Make a Horrible Mistake.”
The word “about” is a relative term, of course, as no plans for hypothetical camps have appeared anywhere on the agenda for the County Board of Supervisors or the City Council.
In a post without any citations, Alkhassadeh, whose site tracks how many stabbings happen in the county each year, worried the camp would draw more homeless to Santa Cruz. He believes the camp—which he doesn’t think should be studied by city staff—would worry real estate agents about its impact on housing prices, and that a population of mentally ill could decrease public safety around such a camp. He asked people to write city councilmembers in opposition. He says his post got half a million hits.
In a long response, Vice Mayor Don Lane, a supporter of the homeless, noted among other things that there isn’t any data to support a correlation between mental illness and crime. Organizer Stacey Falls, in a lengthy response of her own, also responded to Alkhassadeh’s points and cited data from Seattle that tent cities there haven’t impacted public safety.
“Honestly, there is so much that is just plain wrong, that it feels daunting to try to address it all,” Falls wrote.
But Alkhassadeh, who recently moved out of the County but still works in Santa Cruz, hasn’t backed down, and is asking the City Council for a response.
“I am asking, with all due respect,” he wrote in a follow-up letter to the Mayor Lynn Robinson, “to have you and your colleagues send me decisions that have been made since you took office that have improved our city’s image and created an environment undesirable to crime.”
But Alkhassadeh, himself, isn’t interested in taking a stab at policy suggestions, though, anytime soon.
“Everyone’s asking me, ‘What would you do with it? And how would fix it?’” he tells GT. “That’s not my job, man. That’s the City Council’s job.”
PHOTO: Helbard Alkhassadeh after the stabbing of Shannon Collins two years ago. CREDIT: Sal Ingram