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The Cruelty of the San Lorenzo Evictions: A First Hand Account

Abbi Samuels - 12.29.2020
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Martin Bernal will continue to evict people from San Lorenzo Park during the holidays with no place to go. The City Council and much of the staff who care are all on vacation. Merry Christmas Santa Cruz!

A note from the editors: The following is a first hand account from one of our members that was submitted after the first part of the phased evictions of unhoused folks living at San Lorenzo park. It’s vital that the houseless population remain unharassed by police–avoiding exposure to COVID-19 and staying warm during the holiday season. We need real solutions to these problems that guarantee healthcare, put a roof over people's heads, and provides the other support folks need–the services themselves or help accessing them.

The first day of resistance this week against the City's cruel eviction order was a success thanks to the rapidly built coalition of community members that coalesced to STOP THE SWEEPS.

However, the action is ongoing as the police continue to show up each day and assess another sweep. Support is still needed in many ways. For more information on ongoing efforts, follow us or @stopthesweepssc on instagram–you can also check out their website, https://stopthesweepssc.wixsite.com/love.

I have been in tears all morning over what happened yesterday at San Lorenzo Park. It is 4 days before Christmas and the City Manager, Martin Bernal, evicted many houseless individuals staying at San Lorenzo Park.

During Covid, Martin Bernal, who makes close to $300k a year, has emergency authority to do executive orders. He executes the orders and then it goes to the City Council after the fact. He has evicted the vendors from selling at the beach. He has evicted people sleeping at the Post Office, at the Town Clock, at the Levee, at an empty city lot, Lot 27, Lot 17, the Pogonip, Felker Street, the Benchlands, Paradise Park, Harvey West, Grant Park and many, many other places. 

The police have been telling people to go to San Lorenzo Park. They even dropped off someone’s belongings who was evicted from the Post Office. So now they all have huddled at San Lorenzo Park. The residents did not want to get evicted so they have been keeping it very clean. Mutual Aid groups bring them 50 Hefty trash bags every few days. It is the absolute cleanest encampment I have ever seen in Santa Cruz.

I have spent over 25 hours there during the last 3 days and 95% of the people stay in their tent staying in shelter during COVID. I have not seen large groups hanging outside of their tents. I am 65 years old and have slept at the park alone in my tent on three different occasions and have never been bothered.

Even though the CDC Guidelines are very clear about not dispersing encampments during COVID and that our own county Health Director, Dr. Gail Newel, stated that she was not advised and would have advised against the sweep.

Around 30 or so cops descended upon the park at around 8am yesterday morning telling people they had to move from one side of the park. When Chief Mills was at the encampment yesterday evicting people, one of the houseless residents, Hannah, asked him, “where are we supposed to go?”, he replied, “you are adults and can go wherever you want. But they have closed down every place making it illegal to sleep anywhere. All of the shelters are filled to the max. Even though they are not giving out sleeping tickets, they are closing every viable place to sleep. Instead, they give out trespassing tickets essentially criminalizing people for being unhoused.

Here are some heartbreaking highlights from yesterday evictions:

Two of us went up to one woman as she was packing up asking her if she needed help. When we told her we were so sorry this was happening to her, she burst into tears saying, ‘thank you for caring but I don't know where to go.'

There was one older, kind Latino man, who I passed by on multiple occasions over the last few months. I would see him sitting outside his little tent. He always gave me a warm beautiful smile. I had a feeling he only spoke Spanish so I would say Hola. I could not find him all day Sunday to ask him if he knew about the move, since the fucking signs are ONLY in ENGLISH. But I couldn’t find him. I was thinking that he may be a day laborer. His tennis shoes were perfectly tucked under the pallet that his tent sat on. He had two little crates in front. Everything was so organized. It felt like one of those homes where you hung out on your porch watching people walk by. A few of us didn't want his stuff to be taken by the city so I opened up his tent and fell down in disbelief. It was like entering into a sanctuary. He had a little alter with pictures and I have a feeling it was for people close to him who have passed away. His little home was so serene and beautiful. We started carefully removing his items, packing them up carefully when he arrived seeing us going through his tent. He had a cane as he walked. He looked at us with kind eyes trying to understand what was happening with no anger. Luckily, one of us spoke decent Spanish and explained to him we wanted to make sure his little home was safe. He thanked us. We asked him if he knew about the eviction and he did not. We found out his name was Juan. His friend came around 11am and helped him move his stuff to somewhere on the other side of Soquel ave. I don't know where.

The shopping cart... I saw a shopping cart in the city worker's truck. I asked if I could have it so that people could move faster out of the area. Three city workers stood in front of the truck blocking my way to grab the shopping cart. One of the workers said, once it is in our city truck, it cannot be removed. So I asked two officers who were not too far away if they would help me get the shopping cart since they wanted people to move out quickly. They said it wasn't mine but was owned by a business and against the law. So I looked for another officer who would be more understanding and found Sergeant Dan Forbus, not to be confused with his asshole brother cop Dave Forbus. He went up to the city workers and asked for the shopping cart. One of them said it was too dangerous to touch because it has needles in it. Dan Forbus grabbed the shopping cart and emptied the bag into the truck taking all of 3 seconds handing me the cart. I thanked him and as I walked by two other officers down the road, they said to me that the cart was illegal to have and that they could ticket me. I told them to go ahead and arrest me as I passed them. I gave the cart to Juan. He neatly piled up his items in his cart.

I don't get to see the inside of many of the tents there but there was this huge tent, maybe a 12 person tent. As the two 30 something year old women were packing up, I saw the inside. They had everything neatly organized. There was even one of those rolling metal clothes rack with a lot of clothes beautifully hanging from it. It was heartbreaking to see their home being dismantled. About two hours later, I went to gather my stuff by the side of the road but was missing one item. I had left it by a place that now had a lot of displaced items from the move. There were a lot of items covered by clothes and tarps. While looking for my item, I touched the tarp and then I heard a female voice coming from underneath the tarp asking what I was doing. Then two heads popped up from under the tarp laying on the grass looking at me. I was surprised to see that anyone was under the tarp and realized they were the two women from the 12 person tent. I told them I was missing my rope. They told me to lift up the purse and I would find it underneath. I asked them if they knew where they were going. They said Highway 1 since they heard Caltrans wasn't bothering people sleeping there.

On many occasions, while filming, the cops would talk loud and say things about all of the needles at the camp. I told them I had been at the camp for the last 3 days and have not seen one needle except inside a tent. So I asked one of them to please show me the needles. He said there was one tent full of needles. I said well there's no surprise that people use but please show me one needle outside of a tent. He started walking and we followed him and I asked, "we have been walking a long way and you haven’t shown me any needles." He said he has all the proof on his camera.

The police confiscated two large sharp containers from this one houseless individual who was packing up all of his stuff. Six police stood around his containers staring at this guy as he yelled at them for taking his sharp containers. My guess is they would have arrested him if we didn't have several cameras filming them. Denise from Harm Reduction came walking up and saw the issue. She went up to this young man who was so upset and said to not worry and she will give him his stipend for helping clear the encampment of needles. She calmed him down and then she went to the police and told them she would take the sharp containers from them and said that this man was doing what she asked him to do. She explained that she handed him those sharp containers the night before telling him he would be given a stipend for helping clean the encampment. Someone from one of the mutual aid groups loaded up their van with all of his stuff taking him to some other location.

One asshole cop named Ross passed by me holding many of our protest signs. I asked for them back and he said no and that they were a fire hazard. So I went looking for the highest in command at that moment which was Sergeant Wes Morey. Morey happened to be an earshot away so I called him over asking to please give me my protest signs stating it was my first amendment right to have them. It was so surreal. All Morey did was look at Ross and indicate with a turn of his head to give the signs to me. There were no words. He just motioned with his head. Ross immediately dropped them from his hand as they flew all over the ground.

I forgot to mention when all the cops started descending upon campers at around 8am, two cops went to a few tents on the other side of the path, the side of the park they were NOT supposed to be sweeping, according to their posted notices. I screamed at them saying to immediately stop and follow their own signage. They said to me that eventually everyone has to go. I screamed to leave them alone and don't bother them until you post new signs. They left for the other side of the encampment where the eviction was supposed to be taking place.

KSBW came at 12:30pm to film the little bit of garbage that the campers left and the displaced people with all of their stuff on the other side of the pathway. I stood in front of the camera asking him where were you this morning to film people getting moved? He asked me to please move and I refused since I didn’t want the story to be taken out of context and make it look bad when the encampment was clean before they started the sweep. Unfortunately, he probably got a few shots of displaced items and a few piles of garbage.

Martin Bernal will continue to evict people from San Lorenzo Park during the holidays with no place to go. The City Council and much of the staff who care are all on vacation. Merry Christmas Santa Cruz!

For more information and some video, check out this facebook post: https://www.facebook.com/100009862091179/videos/1400323550306368/

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