Like Trump and most demigods they need a scapegoat. During the ongoing crime wave in Eureka Mills found a convenient scapegoat with “the homeless”. It would seem he hasn’t changed tactics at his new job.
SANTA CRUZ >> Under the auspices of its new chief, the Santa Cruz Police Department has launched a new approach to homelessness and outdoor sleeping.
In an opinion piece penned for the Sentinel Sunday, Chief Andy Mills revealed his intentions to de-emphasize enforcement of the city’s overnight public camping ban.
“From 9 p.m. until 6 a.m., SCPD will not issue camping citations unless there is a complaint by someone in control of that property or some other crime or nuisance behavior is taking place,” Mills wrote. “Instead, the police will turn their focus to finding those stealing out of your yards, cars and homes during the night.”
In an interview Monday, Mills tempered the reduced focus on enforcing overnight camping laws, saying “unacceptable behavior is unacceptable everywhere.”
“I honestly believe that people need to sleep and that people are healthier when they get sleep, they can make better decisions when they get sleep. If at some point in the future, we can have a place where people can go and sleep lawfully, I think that makes great sense,” Mills said. “At the same time, this gives us the opportunity to say, we can’t enforce this rigorously when there aren’t enough beds or even close to it for people to sleep. But I want to re-emphasize that bad behavior is bad behavior, regardless of whether you’re housed or unhoused.”
The chief’s op-ed was published just days after his officers used “personal persuasion rather than positional power” to clear out what he estimated was about a dozen people regularly sleeping along the chain-link fencing outside the downtown post office. Mills said the familiar faces were offered supportive services, such as motel vouchers and mental health services, in the days leading up to the clear-out. The operation was scheduled for Monday, but was moved up after officers reported witnessing “gigantic rats that are crawling in and out of sleeping bags” and had become “unhealthy and unsafe,” Mills said.
“The post office has become such a focal point for many people in the city that we really needed to act on it,” said Mills, adding that the effort was just one piece of longer-term efforts.
A proposal to lift the city’s overnight camping ban in March 2016, led by then-Councilman Don Lane, failed in a 5-2 vote. With passionate community members arguing for and against the idea at the time, opposing council members questioned the long-term benefits of permitting unsheltered sleeping. Councilwoman Richelle Noroyan said at the time the ban was not just about sleeping, but about public health.
“It’s about urinating and defecating and people finding needles in their front yards and people contacting me by the dozens saying they don’t even like to go in their back yards,” Noroyan said.
Vice Mayor David Terrazas said during the same 2016 meeting that the proposal “does not provide the types of solutions that lead to that lasting change.” On Monday, reached for comment on Mills’ plan of action, Terrazas said the sleeping ban was still in effect and that he supports the chief in coming forward with a larger strategy to address a “crisis downtown.”
“I look at this as a very narrow action in regard to a larger comprehensive strategy to better connect those in the greatest of need to services,” Terrazas said, when asked if this may be a precursor to ultimately lifting the camping ban.
“I think we as a council have unanimously approved a subcommittee’s recommendations addressing homelessness in our region and currently are working with Santa Cruz County officials to implement that plan. So we’re not just looking at this as limited to just whether or not someone has any sort of violation of our ordinance, but in regards to how we expand how we are addressing this situation.”
Mills said he has received several community responses and recommendations since his letter was published. Homelessness issues advocate Steve Pleich shared with the Sentinel a “homeless depot shelter” concept he penned with Rabbi Philip Posner and John Kevin Rothwell that would designate legal public sleeping times and location.
In his op-ed, Mills termed the post office encampment as “ground zero” for the local hepatitis A outbreak. Santa Cruz County spokesman Jason Hoppin stepped back from that statement, saying the city has had a concentration of confirmed patients in the downtown, but that the county has not linked the cases specifically to the post office dwellers.
“There really isn’t an epicenter or a ‘big bang,’” Hoppin said. “We have a concentration of cases downtown, but it’s a sanitation issue, mainly. People need clean places to go to the bathroom and eat.”
The intensified interest on the downtown encampment is the latest city effort to break up larger areas of visible outdoor homeless gatherings, and is tied in with a hepatitis A outbreak numbering 73 confirmed cases countywide. Hoppin said there is not a “huge risk” to the general population of contracting the disease.
Instead, the liver-related illness, spread by contact with feces of people who are infected or from contaminated food or water, has disproportionately affected Santa Cruz County’s homeless and drug-using population, he said. The number of people infected with the disease who do not fit that description “can be counted on one hand,” Hoppin said.
Some of those without homes displaced from the post office were later seen relocating to the San Lorenzo Park “benchlands,” Mills said.
Similar city-led homeless encampment dispersals in the recent past have included large gatherings around Santa Cruz City Hall and the Downtown Santa Cruz Public Library due to negative public interactions, heavy restrictions along the San Lorenzo River levees after the Aug. 23, 2016 fatal shooting of Joey Shuemaker and numerous clearings of encampments in the Pogonip in recent years.