With less than three weeks until the planned shutdown of a city-sanctioned homeless camp and the ongoing closure of two city parks, a Nov. 15 protest will aim to highlight “the human right to sleep” with a group sleepout.
Though Santa Cruz officials have framed the park closures as routine maintenance, a flier posted on an orange traffic sign at San Lorenzo Park the week of Nov. 5 read “Park closed until further notice.” In addition to “focused maintenance,” the form attributed the closure to “public safety.”
“It seems obvious to me that they’re closing the parks to keep homeless people out,” says former Santa Cruz City Councilmember Micah Posner. “I don’t think that’s what public safety is, but it’s what it means in the city government: Don’t let the homeless in there, because middle class people are afraid of them.”
An Oct. 22 City of Santa Cruz press release asserted that the shutdown will be timed to coincide with the scheduled opening of a seasonal indoor winter shelter at the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) 7263 post in Live Oak. What the city didn’t announce at the time was that it would also be closing two parks, San Lorenzo and Grant Street, where homeless people have in the past been known to bide time during the day or sleep at night.
City Manager Martín Bernal told the Sentinel after a contentious City Council meeting late last month that the timing with the park closure was coincidental and due to routine maintenance. “This is the kind of interim period that allows us to do the maintenance before the winter storms start,” Bernal said. “That’s another rationale for the timing—it’s that window of opportunity that we have.”
For the Thursday protest, slated to start at 4 p.m. outside the Santa Cruz downtown post office, activist Keith McHenry has called for others to bring tents, blankets, sleeping bags and tarps to sleep out and help establish a new “safe camp” for those with nowhere to go.
“The city plans to close its only legal campground just before the winter,” wrote McHenry, a co-founder of Food Not Bombs. “Concurrently, it has fenced off the nearest parks and bathrooms indefinitely. People may die as a result.”
Jacob Pierce contributed reporting.