Wed, 27 Jun 2001 06:04:42 -0400
From: Homeless United For Friendship and Freedom <email@example.com>
Subject: Santa Cruz City Hall vs. Camp Paradise: Story for Street Spirit
(American Friends Service Committee street newspaper)
Camp Paradise vs. City Hall
Self-help Campground Prepares Peaceful Resistance to Police Closure
by Becky Johnson and Robert Norse Story for June 2001 Street Spirit
They didnıt know what else to do. They were on the streets of Santa Cruz,
trying to quit drugs, and most had jail records. The local shelter was
inadequate or full. Many of them lived in an area long since abandoned by
private property owners, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the City of
Santa Cruz. Directly across from Salz Leathers, Inc. a tannery (one of
Santa Cruzı oldest and most polluting businesses), and behind a cemetery
along a garbage-strewn riverbank near the Highway One overpass, this small
group of homeless people decided to make themselves a home.
"Iıve lived along the banks of the San Lorenzo River off and on since
1984. This is my home," says Camp Paradise founder, Larry Templeton.
Cemetery workers say they havenıt seen a Parks and Recreation employee or
a Public Works employee cleaning up trash there in twenty years. Area
residents rarely took a walk along the shimmering river under the Sycamore
trees. It was too dangerous.
Santa Cruz County Coronerıs office reports indicate that a
disproportionate number of homeless people have lost their lives due to
overdose or violence in the area of the San Lorenzo River and the Highway
One Bridge. Down and out alcoholics inhabited the bushes and broken
bottles, old couches, mattresses, junk food papers, and signs of human
defecation were everywhere.
"We decided to clean up our home," Larry explains. "We bought our own
garbage bags and using all volunteer labor, we began to clean up the
riverbank." He takes a drag on a cigarette, his eyes squinting from under
the brim of his baseball cap. Blue light shines down on him through the
blue tarp canopy stretched above him. All around him, neatly organized are
bicycle parts, tools, and a workbench.
This past winter, they put up the blue canopy and 3 or 4 tents were
pitched below. They felt safety in numbers, and since they were all trying
to quit drinking or doing drugs, they helped to keep each other sober. "I
came here in October of 2000," said Danny "Cookie" Blair, who is unrivaled
as the camp cook. Kay and Donald came about that time, too." Outside of
the blue canopy, they built a river-rock firepit for cooking. As they
cleared the trash away from their tents, they planted vegetable gardens.
More people joined them. Each began to improve the camp in the way they
were most suited. Joseph built a footbridge over an eroded section of the
path. To keep it from washing out again, he built a goldfish pond. The
paths from the nearest street were widened and smoothed out so Camp
Paradise resident, Kay, who uses a wheelchair could come and go. She holds
down the camp regularly, watching over things. Her husband, Donald, works
in the bike shop.
For weeks at a time, nearly 20 bags of garbage showed up next to the
garbage receptacle along the river levee bike path. One day last April, a
Parks and Recreation worker walked down the river to see where all the
bags of garbage were coming from. "When he got here he was amazed,"
reports Cookie. "He couldnıt believe all the garbage weıd cleaned up."
"The place was starting to look real pretty," Larry says with obvious
pleasure. "He told us to keep on doing what we were doing, and that was
Larry points to a gate in a 6-ft. chain link fence next to the cemetery.
"See that gate?" he says. "The garbage here was piled higher than that
gate. We pulled a truck up to this gate from the cemetery and loaded up
all the trash. It weighed in at 4800 lbs. at the landfill and that was
just one of our clean-up efforts."
Mayor Tim Fitzmaurice, got word of the camp from City Parks and Rec.
workers and came to visit the camp in May. "He looked around and said it
was real nice here," said Joda. One of the campers, has AIDS and uses
medical marijuana. When the mayor arrived, he saw his five tiny plants in
little pots. "Put those out of sight," Mayor Fitzmaurice advised. "He said
heıd try to get us a dumpster and a port-o-potty," added Kay, "but we
never heard from him again."
The next day a police officer came to the camp and pulled up four of the
plants. The "nicest" one, he kept in its pot and took away with him. The
homeless patient argued that as a legitimate medical marijuana user, he
was entitled to grow 5 plants. The police department then told some
members of the City Council that the campers were growing 60 plants by the
Although the vast majority of residents on nearby Felker St. supported
Camp Paradise, one neighbor complained. The police came down and placed
notices on all the tents ordering them to clear out by July 1st or face
arrest. With literally no place to go, the campers decided to talk to the
Camp critics like Councilmember Ed Porter later took Camp Paradise to task
for not remaining "low-profile", but that decision was really made for
them by the Mayor and the police. The Mayor made promises he didnıt keep
and then allowed the police to take actions that directly violated his
Larry reports the Mayor has not returned his phone calls in a month. Toni,
a pregnant mom living at the camp, who was married in a high-profile
ceremony by Fitzmaurice last year, says sheıs still waiting to get word
back from the Mayor about the photos of the event that he promised them.
Instead of waiting for City Council to make good on Vice-Mayor Christopher
Krohnıs two-year old promises to set up portapotties in heavily-used
camping zones, Camp Paradise residents paid for one and installed it as
well as trash cans.
Ironically, both Porter and Fitzmaurice were elected to City Council with
Green Party endorsement (Fitzmaurice actually is a Green Party member
himself), which included a commitment to end the Cityıs Sleeping Ban
law-those sections of the Camping Ordinance which criminalize sleeping
from 11 PM to 8:30 AM each night. The police are threatening to ticket
campers and destroy the campground under another section of the same law
that these two promised to amend.
Soon television stations, newspaper writers, and freelance videographers
were showing up and stories appeared in several major newspapers.
Bureaucrats were interviewed and the police department granted interviews
with selected press members. The agencies that now said they were going to
destroy the campground admitted they had some appreciation for the
estimated 24 tons of trash removal and habitat restoral, the drug and
alcohol-free atmosphere they have been able to maintain, the no-cost
bicycle repair service they have provided to the local community, and the
complete lack of vandalism to the nearby cemetery in the months in which
Camp Paradise had come into being.
"We have to prevent chaos," warned Deputy Chief Jeff Locke as he explained
why they must ticket, dismantle, and disperse the camp. Six years ago,
Councilmember Scott Kennedy and other bureaucrats broke their word to the
last low-income campground in Santa Cruz-the Coral Street Open Air Shelter
or "Back Forty". Around Xmas 1995, they made several hundred homeless
people domestic refugees-more than six of whom ultimately died, denied the
protection of a community and nearby emergency services.
Speaking about Camp Paradise, Mayor Fitzmaurice piously intoned."We must
get these people into social services." Meanwhile, the only local
emergency shelter (capacity: less than 40) began sending their overflow
down to Camp Paradise. They sent us two families last night," Larry said.
"One family was a mom, a dad, and three little kids. Now (four year old)
William will have someone to play with." Campers no longer cross over the
river for meals, preferring Cookies legendary "camp stew." "We only use
the Homeless Services Center [HSC] for showers now," Larry says.
Little wonder the campers little use the nearby services. The Highway One
Bridge connecting the HSC homeless "ghetto" with Camp Paradise has no
pedestrian access. "They say you are exposed for 15 seconds," reports
Chris, who has been sober exactly one week. It is a $182.00 ticket to walk
across the bridge. In the last two weeks, Larry estimates, the HSC has
sent at least 15 people to the camp for accomodations because the City
could not provide a legal safe sleeping place for them. And if they found
their own, they would risk ticketing under the Sleeping Ban if they slept,
ticketing under the Blanket Ban if they covered up with bedding, and
ticketing under the broader Camping Ban if they put up a tent for
What will the Camp do when the police come? One camper said, "There are
eight of us who will not go, but stay and be arrested." Others are already
making plans to leave. At the same time, campers from further out in the
wild, Pogonip greenbelt area are starting to move to Camp Paradise. But
then anyone who has been there canıt help but be thankful for being is
such a special place, where the least unlikely people have created the
best possible model of community. They have demonstrated ecological
stewardship, shown themselves to be good neighbors, have created a drug
and alcohol-free atmosphere, have provided free bicycles and repair to
other homeless people, and have "encouraged" the junkies and drunks to
take their activities elsewhere.
On June 23rd, eight days before the Cityıs July 1st deadline, Camp
Paradise held a barbecue, potluck, and concert throughout the afternoon.
Templeton said he counted 300 people, even though a conflicting memorial
for long-time homeless activists Paddy Long and Elizabeth Gipps drew many
sympathizers to another part of the City.
Meanwhile, the campers found a lawyer to help them in their negotiations
with the City and a paralegal to prepare an Injunction that would stop
police from creating 45 refugees (the size of Camp Paradise as of June
25th). The Eichorn decision requires courts to allow homeless people to
use the Necessity Defense when charged with "camping". Since the shelter
services themselves admitted they were all full, ticketing the campers
would be frivolous, since the charges would eventually be thrown out.
Since police have had no difficulty in ticketing other homeless people in
the area in the same situation, however, an Injunction would be necessary
to stop this prejudicial practice.
"These people have turned their lives around, and how to live together,
and they are a good example for all of us to learn from," said Attorney,
Paul Sanford. He is currently in negotiations on behalf of Camp Paradise
with the City and the police. Supporters have formed Friends of Camp
Paradise and are organizing resistance to closing the camp. "Our bottom
line is they shouldnıt close the Camp until they have somewhere for these
people to go to," explained Bernard Klitzner, recently exonerated in the
Koffee Klatch 3 trial on June 1st.
"This is part of a broader struggle," said activist Jim Cosner. "The
entire houseless community here [1000-2000 each night] see Camp Paradise
as a beacon and an example. They need to stand fast and those of us in
houses need to support them." Authorities, perhaps eager to divide the
homeless community, have stepped up busts against other campsites, but
startled by the favorable publicity, have so far left Camp Paradise
alone-other than regularly threatening them and setting up new deadlines
for eviction. In another arbitrary show of force Officer Eric Seiley told
Larry recently that any attempt to play amplified music during barbecue
would be stopped, even though the campers agreed to pay for any permits
The camp Rabbi, Chayim Levin pays daily visits to the camp. "When the time
comes for the police to clear this camp, Iım setting my tent up here and
sleeping with these people. What could the campers do if and when police
throw them out of Paradise? Homeless people in other urban areas have
established mobile campsites that move from place to place around the
City," Dignity Village in Portland and SHARE in Seattle are self-managed
homeless camps that are clean and sober, like Camp Paradise They set up
camp and stay there until the City demands they move on, then find another
spot, all the while gathering supporters, getting their residents regular
employment, and making the invisible poor visible so the issue can not be
Another proposal is that campers, if faced with the bulldozers, fold up
their camp and establish a small "demonstration" camp at City Hall or
downtown where shoppers pass by. If police tear down the camp and arrest
the campers there, another tent and another volunteer would take the
arrested personıs place. The point would be to shame the business
community and City Council into finally addressing the concerns of the
Cityıs own $10,000 Homeless Issues Task Force, which over a year ago
unanimously called for rent control, an end to the entire camping ban in
the current shelter and housing emergency, and immediate establishment of
safe and legal places to sleep.
Homeless Issues Task Force chair Linda Lemaster was upbeat about the camp
but less than optimistic about the politicians. "Camp Paradise is
wonderful. City Council and its police continue to kick homeless people
while theyıre down and to criminalize elementary homeless survival needs.
Perhaps the sight of children living and playing in a tent outside the
City Hall offices will wake up those in power. My deeper fear is it will
take strong court action or more visible homeless deaths to get them
To contact Camp Paradise, or to join Friends of Camp Paradise e-mail
Message phone: Larry Templeton at (831) 458-6020 ext 105