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Santa Cruz Struggles With Homeless

...topless women, Uncle Sam on stilts, and Grateful Dead fans have been marching past surf shops, book stores and cafes chanting: “We’re here, we’re poor, we’re not going shopping.”
Santa Cruz Struggles With Homeless


Wed Sep 11, 2002
By MARTHA MENDOZA, AP National Writer

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (AP) - There are bad vibes downtown these days in this liberal beach town.
City leaders, frustrated by aggressive beggars and obnoxious sidewalk behavior, want to ban Hacky Sack games, sign-holding panhandlers after sundown and street music.
As a result, topless women, Uncle Sam on stilts, and Grateful Dead fans have been marching past surf shops, book stores and cafes chanting: “We’re here, we’re poor, we’re not going shopping.”
For several months, city leaders have been developing a package of complex new rules for the 10-block stretch in a rowdy and public process that has included dozens of meetings and protests. At the same time, there’s been an unusual rash of violent crime a shooting, a gang fight and several late-night assaults.
“There’s like there’s an increasing number of people who aren’t being respectful to each other,” City Councilman Tim Fitzmaurice said Tuesday. “We can’t change their behavior. The best we can do is talk about space and time and place and manner.”
On Tuesday, about 20 protesters with duct tape over their mouths and “Reclaim Our Streets” signs walked the length of downtown before a City Council meeting where leaders planned to fine-tune and likely postpone implementing their ordinances.
Jay Green, sitting on the edge of a planter box in front of a downtown jewelry store, said it is the police, merchants and city leaders who need to be more respectful.
“The city people must have way too much time on their hands, because that’s the only reason why I think they want to hassle us and ban things like chalk and Hacky Sack,” he said. “It’s nonsense.”
The downtown streets of this 50,000-person town are very much a gathering place. Street musicians dot the doorways, coffee drinkers soak up sunshine, political candidates shake hands and shoppers stroll about.
Santa Cruz is not unique in struggling with downtown tensions between merchants who want to clear the sidewalks and homeless people, wanderers, students and others who want to hang out.
There have been recent protests over the treatment of the homeless in more than a dozen communities including Portland and Eugene, Ore., Boston and Sacramento. Last week in New Orleans, homeless advocates asked the FBI ( news - web sites) to investigate whether city policies violated civil rights.
Some of Santa Cruz’s new rules will make players of Hacky Sack and Frisbee subject to fines of up to $160 and keep panhandlers and political tables 14 feet from building fronts, exits and crosswalks.
The turmoil in Santa Cruz is particularly painful because the district is still recovering from the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake ( news - web sites).
Now that the area has been mostly rebuilt, the area is somewhat more upscale with a large art and history museum, several galleries, a revamped art house movie theater and designer clothing stores.
Some critics of the new regulations have already figured ways around the law. Bee, a homeless woman, propped her “Anything Helps Even A Smile” cardboard sign on a friend’s jacket to comply with the proposed rule that signs can’t be placed directly on a sidewalk.
But she said she’s going to have a tough time with other nuances of the proposed law that require her to sit at least 14 feet away from a business and not lean on anything.
“Good God, what do they want me to do?” she asked. “Hang from the trees?”
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