‘This camp was a home!’

The city of Santa Cruz, CA, one of the most expensive cities in the U.S., evicted upwards of 200 people from their home, calling it an “unsanctioned encampment.”
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SANTA CRUZ, CA — So the Ross Camp was evicted today. A home to upwards of 200 people, an “unsanctioned encampment” in the words of the City. I was there for the large majority of the process.

I’m really angry and sad about this. People were responding to a crisis by creating a home for themselves and were kicked out of that home today, to the applause of much of our community.

It was an eviction of hundreds of people in a single day. It was a massive displacement of our most marginalized community members.

This camp was a home for people for six months. In one hectic day it is over. Sure, many people will get to go to the city-run River Street camp or one of the Salvation Army shelters. But many won’t, for a lot of valid reasons. And those places aren’t a home they built for themselves.

When I left the camp tonight, people were still right outside the fence placed there by the police, some of them with enough belongings to easily fill my bedroom. Just abandoned, sitting on the levee with nowhere to go. The stress of this ordeal surely created conflicts within the homeless community that will carry serious consequences for people moving forward, especially now that the communal space they built has been destroyed.

Towards the end, Rick Martinez, deputy chief of SCPD, came up to thank me for being there all day. I didn’t even know what to say to him. Maybe I should have said “you’re welcome, I’m actually elated that I got a chance to drag people’s entire lives up a hill on pallets and makeshift carts because you and your bosses are here forcing them out of their homes permanently.”

That place provided real benefits to the people there far beyond what I can speak to. What I can speak to though is the direct public health benefits of having so many folks in one place. We were able to clear thousands of dirty needles from the community in less than an hour. Countless lives were saved by Narcan being in so many peoples’ hands. The fire chief loved to complain about how many medical calls they got from the camp, but every single one of those calls were for crises that may not have been noticed and addressed if the victim was sleeping in a doorway or out in the woods.

I don’t know what else to say. The slow violence of progressive liberalism is no better than the quick reactionary violence we see in other places. It displaces and harms people all the same, whether it’s done in the span of an hour with riot gear or the span of a day with smiles and nods.

My heart goes out to every person sleeping outside tonight with no tent and no sense of security or community.

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