Homelessness is a humanitarian crisis like few I have seen in my 40 years of policing. It rivals the crack cocaine epidemic of the 80’s and 90’s in terms of the effect on humanity. The disastrous effect it has on those without a place to sleep is enormous. Through extended sleep deprivation, poor nutrition, lack of medical care and deplorable living conditions, you can watch many of them deteriorate before your very eyes. Frequently they descend into an abyss of substance abuse and mental health problems creating unease in the community.
Homelessness is also tough on our community. Public health problems such as Hepatitis A, discarded needles, urination and defecation in open space, frequent theft and having to confront people in a mental health breakdown are they types of social disorder resident’s object to and rightfully so. Let us be realistic though, Santa Cruz is still an incredible city with so much to offer.
To better understand the problems associated with homelessness, SCPD conducted a short survey of self-identified homeless persons. The results of our study are similar to the Point in Time Count with subtle differences. It is also similar to data from the Homeless Service Center.
We present it to you too with a couple of caveats: The survey is not scientific, it’s meant to give a better understanding. Santa Cruz is a city which chooses to be civil. We seek long-term solutions and recognize enforcement alone will not remedy these social ills. Enforcement of the law is however essential. You can explore our efforts so far this year in the attached presentation presented this week to the Public Safety Committee. Our officers have dedicated their lives to great policing; however, we also recognize enforcement without follow-through is futile and in fact may be counterproductive as it empowers bad behavior.
Here is a synopsis of the survey. The PowerPoint given to Council is attached below along with our crime and enforcement statistics.
- The majority of those surveyed (52%) have lived in Santa Cruz for more than 10 years. 20% had been living in Santa Cruz or less than one year.
- Most respondents (54%) attended High School in this region, and 71% of those surveyed have family members in Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz County, or the State of California.
- Those who answered that they came here for the ability to make money traveled the longest distance to come to Santa Cruz (1,139 miles on average). Climate was the second most common reason for long-distance moves to Santa Cruz (on average 844 miles).
- The top three reasons for why respondents came to the City of Santa Cruz were “It’s where I’m from” (24%), “Climate” (15%), and “Family/Friends” (9%).
- 43% of respondents first became homeless in the City of Santa Cruz, while an additional 13% became homeless elsewhere in Santa Cruz County.
- 28% have been homeless for over 10 years, 82% were homeless for one year or more.
- Most stated that they camp at night (53%), and most of those surveyed look for locations that are safe (48%), protected from the elements (29%) and/or isolated (25%).
- The vast majority of those in the survey (83%) said that they would accept temporary housing, with the main deterrence being safety concerns and shelter rules.
- 43% stated that they dealt with drug and/or alcohol abuse, 37% stated that they had physical and/or emotional disabilities, 26% had PTSD and 26% had a mental illness.