Photograph by Curtis Cartier
lawn time coming: Robert Norse responds to Calvary Episcopal Church Head Pastor Joel Miller's request that loiterers leave the churchyard June 1.
After The Sh*tstorm
An uneasy truce between street kids, church, restaurant and neighbors brings peace to Lincoln and Cedar in Santa Cruz.
By Curtis Cartier
THERE'S an old saying: don't shit where you eat. It's a wise bit of logic--typically not meant literally--reminding people, for their own sake, to keep their misdeeds away from where they live and work. So, is a person with no home or workplace free to cop a squat wherever he or she wants? In the case of a group of homeless youths that hang out regularly on the north lawn of the Calvary Episcopal Church in downtown Santa Cruz, the answer, it seems, is a resounding "no."
"We heard that someone took a shit behind Jack's [Hamburgers]," admits Casey Lloyd, a sandy-haired homeless youth holding a sign near the church that reads: Make Homelessness Legal Now. "But they punished everyone for it. Just because one person shits there doesn't mean it's all our faults."
According to Connie Hutchinson, owner of Jack's Hamburgers, it wasn't just one surprise she found waiting for her behind her restaurant last month, but four--one on each of four separate nights. Rightfully disgusted but lacking irrefutable proof of the culprit's identity, Hutchinson banned the majority of the homeless kids from eating at her restaurant, prompting homeless advocate Robert Norse to set his protest wheels a-turnin'.
Meanwhile, Santa Cruz Mayor Cynthia Mathews, who owns the Zasu Pitts House next door to Jack's, was also reportedly fed up with the kids and their loitering. According to Calvary Episcopal Head Pastor Joel Miller, Mathews began putting pressure on the church leadership to suspend the weekly "Coffee House" homeless feeding, which, along with hosting a nonmandatory Bible study, every Monday evening provides hot coffee and simple fare to anyone who lines up for it.
Faced with mounting pressure from all sides, the youths, during the month of May, found themselves Lincoln Street's most unpopular residents. Today, an uneasy truce exists between the kids, Jack's, the mayor and the church. Father Miller, who has been a staunch supporter of the youths, refused to cancel the homeless feeding but is cracking down harder on loitering, and employees at Jack's are keeping an eye out for the mystery dumper.
"It started when Mayor Mathews complained to some of the church leadership about the kids who hang out on the lawn," says Miller. "I knew there were issues with the kids and Jack's as well, but Santa Cruz has had issues with loitering, drug use and public urination for more than 20 years. The kids usually don't cause much of a problem, but I think they attracted some negative attention."
Mathews doesn't deny meeting with church leadership several times last month, but says she only got involved when other residents began complaining about the youths. She also says that owning a house in the area didn't affect her decision to try and crack down on the street kids, and that the "hostile environment" they created had become intolerable.
As for Jack's Hamburgers, Hutchinson says she spoke with Norse two weeks ago after fliers showed up downtown that labeled her restaurant "anti-homeless" and "anti-youth." She says, however, that once the two groups started talking, they quickly reached an accord.
"I remember hearing about the fliers and thinking, Wow, that's really not true. We've been in Santa Cruz almost 20 years and we've served everyone. We're certainly not anti-homeless or anti-youth," she says. "So I called Robert [Norse] and said, 'Look, here are my concerns.' He told me his concerns, and in the end we came to an agreement."
The "agreement" Hutchinson talks about is laid out in six rules, authored by her and agreed to, for the most part, by Norse's minions. Chief among the rules are concessions on the part of Jack's that allow all the youths that were previously banned from the restaurant to return, providing they refrain from defecating on the property, giving free drink refills to their friends or changing diapers on the tables (issues Hutchinson says she's also had problems with). One rule Hutchinson refused to change despite Norse's prodding, however, was one that says Jack's employees will refuse to serve anyone with "strong odors."
"It's really a health code issue," Hutchinson says. "We serve food here and people without proper hygiene can spread E. coli and other bacteria. I'd get in much more trouble from the Health Department if there was a problem than from refusing to serve someone."
For the sign-holding Lloyd and his friends, he says he knows the group is on thin ice. But, perhaps unfortunately for the rest of the kids, he says he has no plans to change his behavior.
"People are always saying we're causing all kinds of trouble, but that's not true. And the fact is, we're not going anywhere," he says. "Jack's and the church will just have to get used to it."
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