Breaking camp: Santa Cruz cracks down on illegal sites

Illegal campsite/photo by Dan Coyro, Sentinel

Send us your poor, your addicted, your homeless …

Contrary to the opinion of many in our community, this is not a message posted on the roads and pathways leading into Santa Cruz.

But the widespread belief Santa Cruz County is a haven for the destitute and the desperate explains the public support for the sweeps of illegal encampments taking place in the city of Santa Cruz and the county.

Not everyone, of course, agrees that cleaning out squatters’ camps, which long existed in private and public spaces along Highway 9 and the edge of Pogonip, is long overdue.

Opponents say the sweeps are targeting people who have no means to defend themselves, no other resources and few other options. Critics say police and sheriff’s deputies conducting the raids are not really solving a problem, but are just pushing camp denizens on to another illegal site, somewhere else, in someone else’s backyard or forest clearing.

It’s a valid point and one we hope local authorities consider as they continue a sweeps program that so far has identified more than a dozen campsites just in the Highway 9/San Lorenzo River/Pogonip area, long considered a prime hideout for drug criminals and their addicted prey.

It would, of course, be naive to think that just because campers are first warned to vacate and pack their trash, then cited, somehow the problem will just go away.

In a raid last week at a camp off Highway 9, deputies noted that some of the campers were the very people previously driven out of similar hovels by Santa Cruz city police. Law enforcement has been handing out cards with information about Santa Cruz’s relatively extensive services to help the homeless. But many illegal campers are either unwilling to abide by the rules and regulations of formal shelter programs or in no shape to show up because of drug and alcohol issues.

What’s staggering, but only somewhat surprising, is how many camps have gained a foothold. The sweeps began in early July, after Santa Cruz police and parks officials continued to hear complaints about garbage, environmental and criminal problems in areas popular with illegal campers such as the river levee area, Highway 9/Pogonip and along Branciforte Creek.

Not only was the alarming concentration of garbage associated with the camps unacceptable, the fire dangers that come with campfires have posed a significant public hazard, especially transient-caused wildfires in Pogonip.

Longstanding complaints from recreational hikers, walkers and bicyclists about drug use and litter including syringes also spurred authorities into finally saying enough was enough. Private owners who have illegal encampments on their property are being asked to help pay for cleanup costs.

Before the most recent sweeps by deputies along Highway 9, the Sentinel reported that as of Aug. 20, Santa Cruz police cleared out 54 illegal camps and identified 159 camps.

But ticketing illegal campers or arresting people for drug possession often only means these same transients are back on the streets relatively quickly — if they ever leave — and then trudging off to illegal campsites during evening hours.

It’s a thorny issue. Santa Cruz, city and county, is a liberal, tolerant place and many residents are uncomfortable with what they may think are heavy-handed tactics aimed at transients.

But clearly, the fact that perhaps 200 or so illegal camps have been identified is extremely disturbing. The scope of the problem is enough to warrant a public debate over a longer-range strategy for both getting services to the deserving needy and strongly discouraging lawbreaking transients from pitching a tent in the first place.

This post is the Sentinel Editorial for Sept. 19, 2012

This entry was posted in Crime, culture, Economy, education, Environment, Health, Local news. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Breaking camp: Santa Cruz cracks down on illegal sites

  1. Gkravitz says:

    So what is our community to do when an individual doesn’t want the services we provide? They are being pushed out of all other communities and they end up here. We can’t take care of everyone it’s not fair to the law abiding citizens who are being victimized by having their open spaces distroyed by hazardest waste and property stolen to support their drug habits? Not to mention the discarded needles in our CHILDREN’S parks? Santa Cruz can not solve the worlds problems.

  2. Ronald Hughes says:

    Homelessness is not a crime. But trespassing is a crime, and littering is a crime, and illegal drug sales, theft, vandalism, public intoxication and pimping are all crimes. The rich are not above the law, and the poor are not below it.

  3. Robert Norse says:

    This editorial makes the usual phonyndistinction between “the deserving needy” and then”undesirable transients”–when the issue is fair and decentntreatment for all. There is zero mention of the real shelternsituation (none for 95% and a 2-6 week delay for those waiting). nPolice and allied agencies treat homeless people and their propertynas disposable trash (instead of providing real facilities likenportapotties, dumpsters, and trash pick-up’s that might actuallynrestore the enviroment). nnnnnnMiller’s piece does have the merit ofnavoiding the sanctimonious hypocrisy of Mayor Lane’s honeyed words. nLane was silent when Vogel’s police destroyed the San Lorenzoncampground last December creating 100-200 homeless refugees. He isnsilent again as the SCPD blog brags of 500+ citations in itsnapparently unending u201csearch and destroyu201d missions. City ManagernBernal’s SCPD and Parks and Rec are issuing citations for behaviornthat is only a crime if you’re homelessu2014sleeping and survivalncamping. The rest of us can sleep soundly and safelyu2014until thennext major illness when Wells Fargo stands ready to take over ournhomes.nnnnnTo demonize all such survival behaviornas u201cillegalu201d is a way of justifying brutal treatment by renamingnit. ALL CAMPING IS ILLEGAL in Santa Cruz. Hence necessary survivalnbehavior by homeless people has now been twisted (thanks in part tonSentinel coverage) into some kind of criminal conduct. nnnnnnMiller is old enough and wise enough tonknow this. By ignoring the vigilante implications, he enables thisndarkness. Demonizing other groups (Jews, Communists, blacks,nMuslims) isn’t new; demonizing homeless people isn’t new to SantanCruz. It just enrages me to see it happening again.nnnnnAny actual crime stats regarding thenu201ccrimesu201d that justify this concentrated destructive effort? Nonenthat the Sentinel has published. Any research into the legalnvulnerability of the City, whose policy of destroying homelessnproperty is now explicitly unconstitutional under the 9thnCircuit’s recent Lavan decision? No. And, of course, the sufferingnof innocent people being denied their survival gear and treated likentrash isn’t even on Millers’ radar? I get dozens of accounts which Inplay on Free Radio each week. The Sentinel reports on none of this. n nnnnnnIf folks at home were faced with policeninvading their homes late at night and rousting their families withnflashlights, stealing their property, and giving them phony tickets,nsome would defend themselves with force. I’mnsurprised more homeless people haven’t responded violently in self-defense.The city has long needed an injunctionnagainst this kind of official criminal conspiracy against a class ofnpeople. UN observers to establish refugee status for homeless peoplenwhose very existence is being defined as u201cillegalu201d? u00a0nPerhaps have some homeless people should seek refuge in thenEcuadorian consolate in San Francisco?u00a0 Likely the only way to slow or stop this kind of thuggery is by kicking the City straight in the pocketbook.u00a0 nnnnnTo reiterate: since no sleeping orncamping on public property is legal; it’s all illegal. Hence severalnthousand in the City and more in the County suddenly become criminalsnat night. This kind of demonic redefinition is a disingenous way ofnencouraging hate crime against vulnerable people outside. After all,nthey’re u201cdirtyu201d (no public 24-hour bathrooms), so why notneliminate them like vermin? nnnnnnThere’s a real dark nasty messagenunderneath that’s being spread. If your only criticism of the current attacks against the poor are that they areu00a0 “not effective” shows a moral blindness that saddens the soul or a political cowardice that sickens the heart.nu00a0n

  4. cosmicmaggot says:

    Hey Robert… I’ve asked this question before…nHow many homeless persons did YOU personally provide shelter for last night?u00a0nWhy don’t YOU let them camp on YOUR property?

  5. Larry says:

    Homelessness is a problem. Illegal camping in the woods is not the answer. u00a0We should enforce our laws to keep this from being even a possibility. u00a0Our community and children should not have to deal with the human waste and drug issues that seep out of this community. u00a0If we allow it here it will thrive here. Other communities don’t allow camping as an answer to the homeless problem and neither should we. u00a0We need to talk about other solutions, and I think as a community we are doing that with the various services we have.n

  6. Robert Norse says:

    Larry:u00a0 Consider the following fanciful letter (circa 1952):nnRace-mixing is a problem. Integration is not the nanswer. u00a0We should enforce our laws to keep this from being even a npossibility. u00a0Our community and children should not have to deal with nthe low-life behavioru00a0 that seeps out of this community. u00a0If we nallow it here it will thrive here. Other communities don’t allow integration as an answer to the race problem and neither should we. u00a0We need ton talk about other solutions, and I think as a community we are doing nthat with the various (“Separate but Equal”) services we have.nnThink about it.n

  7. Anonymous says:

    u00a0When does tolerance become enabling???

  8. Anonymous says:

    u00a0When does tolerance become enabling???

  9. False Logic says:

    u00a0Robert Norse makes a false claim, and ignores a fact of reality when he claims that “Vogel’s police destroyed the San Lorenzocampground last December creating 100-200 homeless refugees.”nnThe reality being ignored is that that campground was illegal.u00a0 The false claim is that its removal created homeless refugees; the fact of the matter is that they were already homeless. The only difference was that rather than being scattered in dozens of disparate illegal camps, they congregated in one single illegal one.nnThe only way Mr. Norse’s statement could be true is if he were acknowledging that the camp was a magnet for 100-200 brand new homeless who came to Santa Cruz specifically because of it; but Mr. Norse has already told us there is no magnet effect, so that can’t be the case.

  10. Good_Neighbor says:

    u00a0We all want to enjoy good neighbors. A good neighbor doesn’t clutter their lot with garbage. A good neighbor doesn’t threaten the neighborhood with illegal activity or by increasing the risk of fire. A good neighbor can become a friend. nI frequently walk down Ocean St. Ext. The camps I see along the river and in the hills aren’t homes to good neighbors. The fact that they’re exposed, outdoors is irrelevant. If the lots were clean, if there weren’t syringes, if there weren’t poorly contained and loosely monitored fires no one would know that these folks are sleeping in bushes. However, this is not the case. nThe camps must go. The drug dealers (in camps or in homes/apartments) must go. While our climate makes living outdoors doable, we have to set an environment where good neighbors are welcome while others are not.

  11. Jimysmooth says:

    I have said this before, If the opponents are so against this, then put up or STFU! Its easy to stand on a soap box and say that this is wrong, yet if you are not willing to reach into your own pocket, or open your doors or back yard, then you are as much of the problem as the issue its self. I am willing to bet that every of these encampments have evidence of some sort of chemical abuse. u00a0I Would not be surprised if 80% percent of the camps occupants have not visited our jails for one reason or another.nRight now our homeless shelters ARE NOT taking care of the ones that really need it. u00a0Or cant because the funds are wasted on the ones that are trying to get over on the system and are content on being where they are at! Itu2019s time for a strict change in policy. n1. Mandatory random drug testing prior to any funds being distributed to any one on assistance. a drug test is failed, assistance will be discontinued. If the person is in a program, Person must show proof of meeting attendance. Min 6 meetings a week. n2. u00a0Must show proof of job search. n3. Has 3 months from the start of assistance beginning to show proof of permanent residence, (hotels excluded)n4. Must show residence with in Santa Cruz County for a period of no less than 3 years.n*its easier to buy a bus ticket and send them back from where they came then to support them just because they chose to come to Santa Cruz and sponge off our community. nUntil there is a stoppage of enabling these people, these people will never rise up and become a positive influence upon our society and community. u00a0nHonestly. Its time for some TOUGH LOVE> We have to follow a certain old saying. God help those who are willing to help themselves.

  12. Reality Check says:

    u00a0What I think about is how you demand that other people take care of the homeless while you blather on and live off your trust fund.u00a0 Without sharing a penny with those who you claim to advocate for.u00a0 How many people slept in your house, or yard last night, NorseKahn?

  13. chuck howard says:

    u00a0Once again, you greatly exaggerate the number of TRANSIENTS in our community to support your arguments.u00a0 Homeless have families and friends who will house and support them in their time of need.u00a0 Transients have worn out their welcome through their behavior, thefts, etc.u00a0 Santa Cruz has zero homeless and more then our share ofu00a0 TRANSIENTS.u00a0 Please make the distinction Bob.

  14. u00a0Some campers are messy. Some are tidy and even clean up messes they did not make in the forest. All are illegal under laws which make merely existing a crime. Judge John Gallagher defined “lodging” as “settling in or living in a place which may include sleeping.” Then he oversaw a trial that convicted homeless people (and one advocate) for SLEEPING! If you are married to the sole standard of “legal” vs “illegal” then you are blind to laws which are themselves violators of human and civil rights. For instance, a homeless person hasu00a0 the right to a defense of necessity (Eichorn Decision 2000). Since we have grossly insufficient legal shelter (8% average throughout the year), any homeless person who camps illegally is not guilty of breaking the law due to the necessity defense they should be protected by. Miller ignores that police and Public Works are seizing and destroying homeless property in direct violation of current law. In any case, these sweeps are pointless, a waste of public resources, and cause untold misery. Anyone who supports them supports ongoing cruelty. And Miller, with this piece, adds insult to injury.

  15. u00a0Have you ever read the preamble to the Constitution? It SAYS that one of the purposes of government is to PROMOTE THE GENERAL WELFARE. That means, we intend, as a country, to take care of our indigents. YOU claim that Norse and I are “demanding” others to pay for programs? Hardly. We are DEMANDING civil and human rights. We are DEMANDING fair treatment in our courts for homeless people. We are DEMANDING an open process with transparency. We believe that our City will SAVE MONEY by stopping enforcement of all of these petty and probably unconstitutional laws which criminalize innocent behavior such as sleeping at night, using a blanket to keep warm, or asking for a dime. Jails are NOT CHEAP. Why don’t you check out the REALITY of the costs of these policies?

  16. liz says:

    u00a0…do you know how hard it is to get a ‘place of residence’ in 3 months from nothing?u00a0 esp. if your core group of ‘family’ is homeless as well?u00a0 there’ s an entire psychological process to contend with here as well.u00a0 3 months is not enough to get a permanent address.u00a0u00a0 who’s going to rent to them?u00a0

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