This is one of the most intractable issues for Santa Cruz. First, we must recognize the many causes of homelessness, including not simply lifestyle choices, but also mental health issues, addictions, medical crises, domestic abuse, divorce, loss of employment, relocation or prior criminality.
Homelessness and the lack of services result in behaviors unacceptable to our community, including crime, encampments, overuse of public spaces, and health and safety concerns. I responded to this past year’s horrific Clock Tower attack and led 2,700 residents to call for increased mental health and addiction services.
The City of Santa Cruz does not receive any behavioral health funding, including for mental health and addictions. But the City is responsible for law enforcement and housing within the City’s borders. Here’s where we need to focus:
Support state proposition 2 and local proposition G on the November ballot. Proposition 2 is a bond to use existing tax funding to support homeless prevention housing projects in California. Local measure G is a County sales tax increase in unincorporated areas, not in the City of Santa Cruz. Through the leadership of Sheriff Hart and Supervisor Coonerty, a portion of these new funds will be used specifically for mental health, addiction and law enforcement services in Santa Cruz.
Support County behavioral health and criminal justice. Throughout my local and state government career, I have worked cooperatively across government agencies, and have the experience to do so here. The City must coordinate its housing and law enforcement activities with the County’s responsibilities for behavioral health and the criminal justice system, including the jail, prosecution and courts. The City and County must match their respective responsibilities and efforts together to address homelessness in a comprehensive and effective way.
Focus on non-profit partners. As the former President of United Way Silicon Valley, I understand the critical role non-profits play to bridge or implement constrained government programs. The Homeless Garden Project and Downtown Streets Team, both of which I have supported, are shining examples of the work we can do together. We can work on grant opportunities and simplify requirements for service delivery, despite State funding constraints that limit increased City funding.
We must treat the homeless with respect. I will never join in the blanket condemnation of individuals who could be our friends or family; that only furthers a divide in our community. We must never house the homeless in a flood plain; the occupation of the San Lorenzo Park benchlands was unacceptable, and as Chair of the Coastal Watershed Council, I spoke out against that unsafe and anti-environmental solution. And respect is a two-way street, families and visitors Downtown and in our neighborhoods should not be subjected to outrageous language and behaviors.