Commentary: SLV paying price for Santa Cruz’s lax homeless policies
by Mike Degregorio
Nov 07, 2013 | 9886 views | 13 13 comments | 459 459 recommendations | email to a friend | print

The cool fall air and drizzly damp mornings have finally arrived — chilly mornings that signal the end of the craziest, most stressful summer since the great Lockheed fires of 2009. This summer felt like being transported back to 1960’s Viet Nam, with tactical scout planes controlling firefighters and police on the ground, and helicopters and Boride bombers in the air. Millions of dollars went up in smoke fighting scores of suspicious fires in the Santa Cruz, Scotts Valley, Felton and Ben Lomond areas.

Now that things have cooled off a bit, it’s safe to thank our local and state firefighters, police, park rangers and men and women of the California Dept of Forestry and Fire Protection for getting us through a very difficult summer. These people literally shielded us all from an insane onslaught of wildfires. Had it not been for their swift, professional and dedicated response, any one of those blazes could have wiped out entire communities. I would also like to congratulate the local TV and print media outlets for their more objective style of reporting during our fire season — a media term I dislike.

I must also report the troubling relationship between suspicious fires, and the increase and geographic spread of the homeless in Santa Cruz County. Although I feel real sympathy for those who are impoverished because of situations truly beyond their control, it still begs the question: do we really want to increase the population in the San Lorenzo Valley? (For example, the October 25 Press Banner article, “Homeless talk of their experience living in Felton.”)

Many residents living in the City of Santa Cruz now refer to their existing situation as a homeless apocalypse — a product of the City’s misguided political leadership. It’s a well-intentioned social experiment that is breaking bad. Santa Cruz has become a mecca for disenfranchised people from across the entire west coast. A place to come and enjoy free medical and welfare (“CruzCare”), food stamps and the needle exchange. When local people talk about providing a permanent zone for homeless in Felton, I am stunned.

The San Lorenzo Valley should not be held accountable for a problem designed, created and implemented by the government of the City of Santa Cruz. We don’t need this burden in SLV and we should not let Santa Cruz off the hook for their poorly thought-out policies. Let the City of Santa Cruz set up a permanent campsite for the homeless population — there’s a big field across from Lighthouse Point. The city hands out CruzCare, food stamps and needles, might as well give everyone an ocean view too.

I am praying for a wet, warm winter to make it easier on everyone now, and in the future. I only hope that the local TV and print media don’t wish away our rain.

- Mike Degregorio is a Ben Lomond resident.

Comments
(13)
Comments-icon Post a Comment
Felton Mommy
|
November 12, 2013


I've stopped taking my children to Covered Bridge Park and the downtown area in favor of Scotts Valley. The homeless make it very difficult and uncomfortable to allow my kids to run free throughout the park.

What is being done at the political level to help address this issue? Supervisor McPherson - PLEASE STEP UP!

LPetersen
|
November 11, 2013
Unfortunately, this article is very misleading. It is not the City that implements all the programs that were listed (needle exchange, medical care, food stamps) these are all County programs. Mr. Degregorio, you can do something. Call your County Supervisor that votes on some of these programs and express your frustration. As County residents, we are responsible for the decisions or Supervisors make - and it is SC City residents that have to deal with the fallout from these programs.
Tony Tomeo
|
November 08, 2013
I do not believe that the local homeless need or want a permanent camp here. That would attract other homeless people, including transient homeless people from other areas, and make it even more difficult for the local homeless to manage the problems that actually are associated with the homeless. The homeless only want to be left alone; and not chased from their campsites that are reasonably out of the way. Camp sites that are farther from town are more hazardous in regard to fire because they are surrounded by more fuel, and are less accessible to fire crews. Arsonists who burn camp sites certainly do not help. Chasing homeless people from places where they were happy to stay out of the way also makes them more visible and harder to ignore in public areas like the Community Deck and the Felton Covered Bridge Park.
Jim C
|
November 08, 2013
I agree with Mike on the homeless issue, however we don't know who started many of this summer s small fires. I think there are two issues here that need to be addressed separately until there is, if ever, solid connection. I'm a Felton resident and the homeless population continues to grow and unfortunately there is a fair amount of petty crime associated with this. Loitering in Covered Bridge park, trespassing, petty theft, and so on. People need to eat and need something to do.
Jim Danner
|
November 08, 2013
Petty crime? Try violent crime, grand theft, drunk and drugged in public, drug dealing.

Good points Jim, but let's not sugar coat things please.
Felton Mommy
|
November 12, 2013
Jim C -

This is why BBQ'ing has been allowed back in Covered Bridge Park; so that the homeless are not lighting their cookers in the forest.

At least one of the homeless, who has mental health issues, was caught lighting one of the Garden of Eden fires. I'm not certain how long he was held on this charge or if he is even still locked up, but I do not believe we will ever know who lit the rest, but thank the Lord that the fires have stopped.

Mr. Danner - catching a lot of these behaviors needs to be placed upon us as community members. If you see something happening, phone it into the sheriff,though they will not likely respond in any manner of time that is sufficient enough to catch the perpetrators in the act. We only have two sheriffs per shift to cover the expanse of the SLV! Can you believe that? I sure cannot. I'm hearing that there are not enough calls being placed to warrant an added deputy to the force, which I'm struggling to come to grips with. However there is money to have overtime shifts when needed. What more do we need to do to make our town safe?

Pressure on Bruce McPherson. Pressure on Sgt. John Habermehl of the Felton Service Station office. These folks need to step up and get involved with the reality of Felton as it stands today. Otherwise, I have a bad feeling that more transients will no longer be transient and will firmly ensconce themselves here, fully knowing the sheriff will never catch them in the act.

Thank you for reading.

FM

Anne R.
|
November 08, 2013
Instead of targeting the homeless, we should be targeting the arsonists and vigilantes who start the fires. Many of the homeless have no choice about being homeless. Arsonists and vigilantes do have a choice, and choose to deliberately ignite homeless encampments, including a camper trailer near Roaring Camp and a tent right under the Graham Hill Road bridge. In both cases, so much fuel was used to start the fires that there was very little debris left. These were not accidents. The homeless people who lived there had no need for so much fuel. Some of the other suspicious fires were also determined to be arson. Chasing the homeless out of town only makes the problem of arson worse because any other fires will be harder to get to, and surrounded by much more fuel, ie. forest. I do not really see the connection between this topic and the other article about the homeless, but the comments after that article are worth reading. Even though the article is only about the homeless in Felton, many of the comments are very hateful and blame the homeless for all sorts of problems that are not limited to the homeless population. One especially detailed comment by Mike - I think - outlines a list of lies found in comments left there by someone else. These lies are designed to perpetuate disdain and blame for the homeless. Yet, no one wants to talk about the truth of arson and vigilante behavior. It is sad that such a good article that invited people to get to know the homeless a bit better generated so much more hate.
Anne R.
|
November 08, 2013
The comment that I mentioned earlier is by Bill Ligus.
Kate the GR8
|
November 12, 2013


Hi Anne.

I feel that there was no vigilantism involved in either incident.

The article in the Sentinel regarding that camper stated the owner felt it was a gas leak. No mention of intentional fire being set. Same for the camp under the bridge.

Now about that camp under the bridge - it was kept very nice and clean! I had heard that another homeless person started it because he had a beef with the guy. Glad their enormous propane tank did not explode. Imagine the impact to the traffic had there been damage to the overpass.

So stop with the vigilante angle. This isn't Kennedy and the grassy knoll.
Anne R.
|
November 13, 2013
The camper that burned across the street from Roaring Camp was intentionally burned with a combustible liquid like gasoline. There was another camper in Scott's Valley that burned, possibly from a gas leak; but it was a separate incident. I have not read about it. The problem with what you "had heard" about the camp under the bridge is that it is heresay. Those who lived there had no idea why their camp was burned. Their "enormous" propane tank was actually quite small, the sort that many use for barbecues. Even if it had exploded, it could not have damaged the bridge. Now I am not clear on what you mean by stating, "No mention of intentional fire being set. Same for the camp under the bridge.", but then also saying, "I had heard that another homeless person started it because he had a beef with the guy." "Another homeless person started it" sound pretty intentional. So stop blaming the homeless for the vigilante activity and arson. This isn't Kennedy and the grassy knoll. (Although, I don't really know how that is relevant.)
James Welsh
|
November 07, 2013
Fortunately, the homeless who live here do not make it easy for transient homeless to migrate here. I don't quite get the comparison to the older article though, since it does not talk about migration of homeless. It would be great if the local homeless could be taken care of, but being too accommodating probably would encourage such migration from other areas. That is why local homeless only want a place where they can be left alone, but not a real shelter that the county government would be involved with and possibly send other homeless to. That already exists in Santa Cruz for homeless people who do not need to be in Felton.
Samantha Tywin
|
November 07, 2013
Wow! What a thoughtful accurate portrayal of what is going on in the San Lorenzo Valley.

Thanks Mike for having the courage to talk about the elephant in the room.

Next steps?
Tony Tomeo
|
November 14, 2013
This thoughtful article is mostly but not 'completely' accurate for Felton . . . yet. Only a few of the homeless people in Felton are transient. However, there is such potential for transient homeless people to become more of a problem. I know I should not say anything rude; but the few transient homeless people happen to also be among the most problematic people within the homeless community about town. The local homeless community already has enough problems without also absorbing the problems of transient homeless people who want to assimilate into the homeless community, particularly since some transient homeless people do not assimilate very efficiently. Some have little or no regard for the rest of the community, including the homeless community into which they seem to want to assimilate, because they have the option of relocating if the local situation gets too unaccommodating for them. The local homeless community shares the blame for the behavior of the transient homeless people, yet has no recourse. The problems associated with migration of transient homeless people are also problems for the local homeless community. It would help if we get more familiar with our local homeless community, but Felton is already remarkably gracious in that regard.

Next steps? That is a difficult question.


We encourage your online comments in this public forum, but please keep them respectful and constructive. This is not a forum for personal attacks, libelous statements, profanity or racist slurs. Readers may report such inappropriate comments by e-mailing the editor at pbeditor@pressbanner.com.