Responsible parenting and leadership are a start. In between reaching for the sky (Toy Story rocks).

Screw the darkness. I prefer the lightness of Pop.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Mapping the Way

"Five bucks each? C'mon," my wife Amy said.

"That's why I said to bring the cash," I said. 

"But five bucks each? We'd better take our time in there and enjoy it."

"Yep. Let's go."

Our daughters took the lead into the corn maze. They were both more excited about picking out pumpkins to take home than doing the maze, but plowed into it nonetheless. It felt good to do something somewhat normal around a holiday. Even masked up and keeping our distance from the other families that were visiting the pumpkin patch the week before Halloween.

I don't remember ever traversing a corn maze before. I loved mazes as a kid, though, buying maze books and completing each and every one. I even drew many of my own mazes for others to try their luck. But because this maze was made of drying corn stalks, my mind went to Stephen King's 1977 short story Children of the Corn (which was made into a cheesy movie in 1984) about a couple who end up in an abandoned Nebraska town inhabited by a cult of murderous children who worship a demon that lives in the local cornfields.

You know, just your basic King horror story. Oh, and like the snowed in hedge maze in the movie version of The Shining

Anyway, there weren't any cults of murderous children, or a crazy man with an axe, just excited children working their way through the maze with their families like we were.

"Let's go this way!" Bryce called to us. "This way to the exit!"

"No, let's go this way," Amy said.

"No Mom! This way!" Beatrice cried out.

"We're going to take our time and get our money's worth," Amy said.

"So, just stay lost in the maze you mean," I said.

"Yes."

But our girls weren't having any of that. Both Bryce and Beatrice picked one path after another, backtracking and trying new ones after we hit dead ends. It was a beautiful fall day, mild, blue sky and sun, the ocean in view beyond the corn field. We wound through the maze and then -- presto -- Bea and Bryce shimmied through a break in the corn to the exit. 

"I don't think that was actually the way," I said. It had only been about 10 minutes total time in the maze. 

"Yes, it's the way out," Bryce said, running with her sister toward the pumpkin patch.

"I think we were supposed to go back around that way to get to the exit," I said, pointing behind me.

But the girls were gone. Amy and I followed them into the pumpkins beyond. They searched and searched until they found the ones we wanted, ignoring most of our recommendations. After we paid for the pumpkins and carted them back to our car, I glanced over at the corn maze. 

This upside down crazy covid world has been one big frickin' corn maze from hell, I thought. One that we keep winding back and forth in, hitting dead end after dead end, with no exit in sight. Doing the same things every day to keep ourselves safe and well, limiting where we go and who we're around, but never really feeling like we're going anywhere, making any progress, getting beyond the repetitive doldrums while the world inverts dreams and reality like the Christopher Nolan move Inception. Our very souls chafe from this painful repetition, and all the hope and love in the world sometimes doesn't feel like enough for us all to see daylight. 

Don't get me wrong -- we're grateful to be safe and well and know there's an exit eventually from this crazy maze. Until then we'll take the lead from our kids, their simple resilience mapping the way. 


Other "Days of Coronavirus" posts:

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Mask Up First For Your Families

Lap #1

Every fall and spring, my lungs would fill with cement. As a child, my allergies were severe and would then trigger severe asthma. This was before widely available breathing treatments. I don't really remember what, if anything, my mom did for me, or my doctor. I don't remember having any inhalers as a child either, but I do remember my mom telling me when I was really little she'd take me to get an adrenaline shot to help me breathe. 

I just remember having to deal with it and how unbearably uncomfortable I was, how hard it was to breathe simply walking from room to room. I remember looking sick, like I had the flu, my face pasty and eyes sunken, shoulders hunched forward to help me breathe. 

One of the things I dreaded during the school year was the Presidential Fitness Test, especially the mile run we had to do in order to get the official patch award showing we completed it. Push ups, sits ups and more, it was the four long unbearable laps around the track that were the worst part of it all. They felt like eternities woven into eternities when my asthma activated. 

Then, when I turned 15, the asthma began to subside, year after year. Amen. 


Lap #2

A few years later, I started smoking cigarettes. Clove cigarettes at first that then became Marlboro Reds. I went from being a skinny, asthmatic kid who was very athletic later in grade school, junior high and high school, playing soccer, baseball and football, to a troubled young adult with severe anxiety and a new addiction. Ugh. It sucked, and the cigarettes sucked the life out of me. Addiction is a bitch, no matter the drug of choice, and mine was nicotine and multiple other carcinogens that compromised my health from the first cigarette. 

In college I remember getting colds that would turn into nasty coughs. And I'd make them worse by smoking at least a pack a day. I'd tell myself this time I'd quit, to break the monkey's back on my back, but I never did. I kept on smoking and my physical health continued to deteriorate. Little exercise, crappy food and I gained a lot of weight in my mid-20's. Emotionally unhappy as well, the cigarettes were the only things that made me feel better. My ex-wife's family also smoked cigarettes -- her dad, mom and sister (although my ex did not smoke) -- and so we all smoked it up every time we visited. 

Years later, I'd move to Santa Cruz and start a new life, meeting Amy, who also smoked. Not as much as my pack-plus a day habit, but a few cigarettes here and there. She would quit soon after we were dating, eventually motivating me if I wanted to marry her. 

"I don't want to be married to a smoker," she said. "I want us to be healthy for the rest of our lives."

And so after many failed attempts, on September 22, 2002, I officially quit. 


Lap #3

My birth father, Jerry, smoked cigarettes when my sister and I were born and throughout our childhood. That made my allergies and asthma even worse, which I didn't think was possible when I was at my most miserable. 

My sister and I stopped seeing Jerry when I was 13. It would be decades later when I read his obituary online. My mom still heard from his sister once and awhile, and I believe that's how she heard he had died. His obit was less than 30 words in total. It said he died on January 2, 2012, in a hospital in Redding, CA, and that he had lung cancer. He was only 69 years old. 

Lung cancer jumped out at me like an abusive PE coach trailing close behind me on the track. Every so often I look behind me figuratively and I take a deep breath. 


Lap #4

Eight years after his stroke, my dad developed an abscess on his lung. He nearly died in our hometown hospital, developing secondary infections, and had to be moved to the UCLA Medical Center in Southern California. The doctors there helped him recover and heal after removing the abscess and part of his lung. 

When he and our mom was married in 1979, he also was a smoker. Mom never was, thankfully, but Dad smoked for decades. He was a police officer and detective for 32 years, smoked over two packs a day, and then in 1984 he quit cold turkey. Ironically that's about the time I started smoking. 10 years later he'd have that stroke, right after he retired from the police department. 

Dad died in 2012 from advanced melanoma, the same year my birth father died, although due to different circumstances. Thankfully both he and Mom got to hold our girls when they were very little. I miss them both terribly. 


The Longest Mile

Seasonal allergies and adult asthma came back to haunt me about 14 years ago. The asthma activates when I have a surge of allergies or catch a cold, usually in the fall and then again in the spring. I also worry about the years I smoked cigarettes and the damage done to my lungs. I'm healthy overall and exercise regularly, but I still think about that metaphorical PE coach along the way. 

And today, we're still neck deep in a pandemic, the virus known as COVID-19, which affects the lungs among other organs and destructive symptoms. The last time I flew in a plane was in March when I went to one of my last in-person conferences this year, where (again ironically) I had an allergy/cold combo going that had activated my asthma. Where everyone around me got a little freaky wondering if I had the coronavirus. 

Nearly 220,000 people have died in the U.S. alone from covid. There have been nearly 40 million cases worldwide. Cases are surging again as well, just in time for flu season, with covid still being 10 times as lethal as the seasonal flu. Our family got our flu shots, which we've done every year since having children. I'm 55 now and although not everyone shows symptoms with covid, I'm in a more susceptible group due to my history. My dad had health issues and nearly died in the hospital, my mom had health issues and did die in the hospital, and my sister had a random infection a few years ago and nearly died in the hospital. I had another type of abscess infection three years ago, unrelated to the lungs, and I do not want to be in the hospital ever again. 

Although I haven't flown on a plane for eight months, I remember all too well the pre-flight reminder of what to do if the plane lost cabin pressure and the oxygen masks dropped down. You put your mask on first, and then you help your loved ones and your children. 

The infectious disease experts tell us the only thing we can do today about COVID-19, until a viable vaccine is available, is to wear our masks, stay socially distanced, do not gather in large groups and wash our hands, a lot. I believe the science of this; it's not about personal freedoms to get sick or make others sick. The pandemic sucks for sure on so many levels, and like many others, we don't have the resources to go on and on if one of us got sick. That's why nothing else matters to me except to keep myself healthy -- for me -- and for my wife and daughters. For my family and friends as well. 

This has been the longest mile for many of us and it's far from over. My lungs are currently clear as is my mandate: mask up first for your families. 

Be safe and well. 




Sunday, October 11, 2020

All Because of One Day at the Beach

"Somehow we found each other
Somehow we have stayed
In a state of grace..."



Picture by my friend Doug Ross
I never remember our exact exchange, but the visceral memory of that moment is permanently etched in my mind and my heart. 

"What did you say to me again? 'So, do you always come here alone?'"

It's the morning of our 23rd anniversary of when we met. 

"No, Sweetie, I asked, 'Why are you always here alone?,'" my wife Amy says and smiles. 

"Right," I say. "I always remember it differently." 

"Oh, it's your anniversary? Happy Anniversary," says Bryce our youngest. 

"Happy anniversary," says Beatrice our oldest.

"Why does your anniversary have to be on a Sunday?" asks Bryce.

"Because that's where the date fell this year," Amy says. 

"Oh."

"Thank you both. That's why we went to the water yesterday, to read our vows," I say.

"Oh."

Kids, I think. 

The day before our anniversary we did go to the water to read our wedding vows, something we do every year (our wedding date being on the same day when we met, just six years later). Some of the parking lots near the lighthouse and close to the beach where we met are closed due to COVID-19, and the ones that are open are always full. We parked down the street and walked toward the beach where we met all those years ago. Beatrice rode her skateboard, Bryce had on her roller blades and we had our dog Jenny in tow. 

It was a lovely afternoon as it usually is in October where we live. Windier than usual, but still lovely. The girls sat on a bench as we looked out over the beach where we met October 11, 1997. The waves kept time with our vows and the sun lit up the sea...

Amy and I had been coming there alone for weeks during that El NiƱo late summer into October. The weather was beautiful and the ocean much warmer than usual. I'd hang out closer to the water and write in my journal, and Amy would sit in her orange beach chair against the cliff wall. I noticed her the first time I went down to the beach, shortly after I had moved to Santa Cruz, but never approached her. I was in the early stages of a separation that would ultimately lead to divorce (something that would challenge our relationship early on), and had no interest in approaching her, or anyone at that time.

Then one day I looked up from my journal and there were two sun-tanned legs in front of me. I looked up higher, and there she was, awash in sunshine, wearing a two-piece bathing suit and a baseball hat. She was so beautiful (still is), and it was the baseball hat that actually wowed me more than the suit (okay, a close second). I had never known a woman who could wear a baseball hat so well. 

"Why are you always here alone?" she asked me.

Every time I think of that moment, I remember not responding immediately. Not because I didn't want to respond. I just wasn't sure how to. Her question was confident and direct, and at that time, I wasn't so confident and direct, and again, wanted to be alone. Seconds passed. Whatever strange and exciting connection I felt in that moment was already slipping away. The weight in her legs shifted, indicating she was about to walk away. The universe taunted me and my silence. C'mon, Kevin, I thought. You'd better saying something.

"What exactly did I say to you again in response?" I ask Amy.

"'Because I like to,'" she says.

"That's really what I said?"

"Yes, but you can make something up if you want," she says and smiles

"Ha. No, I want to get it right. But 'because I like to'? Subpar, Kevin."

"Well, that's what you said."

"I love you, Amy."

"I love you, too. Happy Anniversary."

That was only the beginning back then. Since then our journey has brought us to today, 23 years in the making. We've had some amazing experiences together, and travels, and had two daughters along the way. We've also had our own challenges, too, and throughout it all it's been a loving journey of forgiveness empowered by grace. We are grateful for each other and our family every single day, awash in love and hope, and we choose us, always. And all because of one day at the beach.

"There's a new sun arisin'
(In your eyes) I can see a new horizon
(Realize) That will keep me realizin'
You're the biggest part of me..."

–Ambrosia, Biggest Part of Me





Sunday, October 4, 2020

Awash in Love and Hope

"But time
Keeps flowing like a river (on and on)
To the sea, to the sea
Till it's gone forever
Gone forever
Gone forevermore..."

–Alan Parsons Project, Time


Twelve years ago, shortly before our oldest Beatrice was born, I thought about when I was 12 years old. I remembered imagining then what my life would be like when I turned 35, in the year 2000. I was full of anxious hope back then. Where would I live? Would I be married? Have a family? Would I be healthy? Would I be happy? What kind of work would I do? Would I be successful? Would I be a writer? 

Back then, 35 felt so far away. Goodness, 13 felt so far away. Time is funny and fluid that way, and it eventually brought me to the sea, literally. And every day, my mental tides then wash away the remains of my experiences, leaving a few foamy bits sparkling in the sun. I pick through them sometimes, hold them in my hand and reminisce. 

When I eventually hit 35 in 2000, I don't remember imagining what life would be like when I would turn 55 in 2020. At that point in my life, I lived in Santa Cruz, was with my now wife, Amy. I had already been married once, but with no children, and kids were light years away with Amy (eight years to be precise). I was fairly healthy back then, but would become even healthier two years later after I quit smoking (although years later I'd have another health scare). I still struggled with my blue genes then, too. I wasn't exactly professionally successful either, but I was a writer and was happy. 

No, in the year 2000 I never imagined that 20 years later we'd be raising a family in a global pandemic, another global recession (the first two were already on their way), chronic homelessness, global unrest due to systemic racial injustice and social inequity, and a world filled with uncertainty, shame and hate. I also never imagined our family, along with millions of other families and individuals, would be part of affecting positive change in communities around the world. 

Time is always now again, its fluidity a constant. Suddenly I'm 55 and all of the above is here, today. But a moment later I'm swept away from mindfulness, and I briefly imagine what life will be like when I'm 75, in the year 2040. Where will our daughters live? Will they be married? Have their own families? Will they be healthy? Will we be healthy? Will we all be happy? Will I still be writing? Will the world be a better place? 

My mental tides wash away those questions and it's now again. All I really know today is that I'm grateful for our daughters. I'm grateful for my wife. I'm grateful for my life. I'm grateful for my family and friends. I'm grateful for my community. I'm grateful for your impact on me, and my impact on you. 

I'm also grateful each week to spend time on the beach in Natural Bridges State Park near where we live. We've been going there for years and we've taken our girls there since there were both babies. Whether it's walking with Amy and our dog Jenny to Natural Bridges and back again, boogie boarding in the ocean with our daughters, or doing my weekly beach workout by myself (usually listening to my favorite band Rush), Natural Bridges is a sacred place to me. It's about a mile from the beach where I met Amy (another sacred place), and only a quarter mile from where we were married. There's something about the one remaining Natural Bridge, the beach and the sea -- this place where I ask for God's grace and wisdom. 

Tides will always come and go, and although my time will disappear into the sea someday, this is where I'll be forever, awash in love and hope. 

"We still feel that relation
When the water takes us home
In the flying spray of the ocean
The water takes you home..."

–Rush, High Water




Sunday, September 27, 2020

The Building Blocks of Healthy Lives

 

Beatrice opened the sliding glass door and stared at me. My eyes met hers.

"Dad, can we play Hedbanz now? Everyone's on their devices," she said over all the adults socializing outside. 

"Yes, we can," I answered. "Tell all the kids to come out now." 

"Bring the game out, too," Mom shouted at Beatrice. 

Hedbanz is a fun guessing game where you wear a plastic headband with a slot in the front where a card is then placed. Each card has a word on it like "lion". Then, teammates give you clues to guess what the word is. 

This was part of Bea's birthday party plans, her agenda, she had set up prior to getting together with our pod. "Pod" being that pandemic term referring to a small group of families we feel covid-safe around, promising to limit interaction with others as much as possible to reduce the spread risk. 

Bea's birthday agenda had clear and specific activities -- and boundaries. The activities were inclusive for her and her friends, and for all the adults in the room. The boundaries included limiting the time spent on devices like computers, iPads, phones, etc. Which is great with us, since we're constantly setting boundaries how much time spent on devices at home. Which is super tough day to day due to the fact that the girls' school is all distance learning right now with lots of device time. 

Boundary setting is also so important in life, and for kids to learn especially. To be very clear as to what's okay to them, what they agree to do, what they don't want to do, how adults talk to them and how they talk to each other, what's safe for all involved, and what's okay with the adults in charge.

Boundaries are a critically healthy part of anyone's life and help keep us all emotionally and physically safe. They go beyond requesting friends to limit their device play. They also keep us safe when feelings are compromised, when physical touch is involved, and when there are those crossing boundaries who say "don't tell; this is a secret." Kidpower has some great boundary and consent checklist posters you can download and that we live by. My wife works for Kidpower and we've both been involved with the organization for many years. The organization is a global nonprofit dedicated to working together to build cultures of caring, respect, and safety for everyone, everywhere.

During Hedbanz, it was the kids versus adults and the competition was fierce. The final score was close -- the kids won by a point or two, but who was counting? Shortly after that and all the other Bea agenda items, Dad was all done. Tired from the previous week's workload, I was ready to go home and get ready for night-night, and so I was clear with my "all done" boundary. We said our goodbyes and were on our way. 

For both our girls to be able to be specific and clear about their boundaries is an important rite of passage for the coming teenage years and adulthood. Boundaries are the building blocks of healthy lives, inclusive and caring, and another way to keep our #BhivePower safely energized.


Other "Days of Coronavirus" posts:

Sunday, September 20, 2020

The Part Where All Lives Matter

The meme is militant. It's angry. It's resentful. It's disrespectful. It's patriarchal and patronizing. And so many people love it. Probably because it represents how so many people feel about their own lives growing up and the next generation's fighting against this norm. It echos that sheriff's sentiment about how we've grown into a mouthy, mobile phone wielding, vulgar, uncivil society.

The Roman Empire talked about their younger generations this way (sans the cell phones, of course). Many societies throughout history have. Americans have talked this way about their younger generations since, well, the beginning. Closer to home for those of us alive for the past 50+ years, we did the same thing in the 1960's. And the 1970's. And the 1980's. And the 1990's. And the 2000's. 

And today. The meme I'm referring to is supposed to be shared in the "classroom", in-person or virtual I assume, although the intention is much broader than that. It includes these bits of brutal patriarchal wisdom:

  • Being told "no" is part of life. Get over it.
  • Life is not fair.
  • You are not the boss.
  • The world does not revolve around you. 
  • The world owes you nothing. Work for it.
  • You put yourself here. You need to fix you.

This isn't the entire list either. I admit, I've repeated shades of some of these things to our daughters, just not this exact verbiage. My wife and I really try not to say these things in these ways, because they don't account for our daughter's emotional well-being, or ours for that matter. 

Yes, emotional well-being. It's how we can manage the day-to-day onslaught of life, especially this year with the pandemic, the economic devastation, the layoffs and furloughs, distance learning for our kids, the social and racial inequity injustice, fires and hurricanes and more. Granted, the perception of fairness in life is subjective, and there are those who have the proverbial cards stacked against them more than others. No matter what, though, we need to focus on our emotional well-being, and help our children do the same. To empathize with others. To learn how to be personal responsible for our behavior and to be safe in all our relationships. Everyone should be entitled to these.

Why would we want to continue to say the above things to our children, though? At any age? What exactly does that accomplish? Why do we continue to equate shaming, fear and loathing to positive discipline? They couldn't be farther apart in what they actually address and how they impact kids and adults. Positive discipline is how we teach our children important social and life skills that encourages mutual respect for every life stage. Not saying "get over it" because "life isn't fair." That's bullshit and sustains the hate cycle we certainly are rapidly spinning out of control in today. 

And by the way, what if your child is bullied, harassed or sexually assaulted? 

You put yourself here. You need to fix you. 

Mercy me, if my parents would have treated me this way with all the things I went through, who knows what kind of shape I'd be in today. I don't think I'd be married to my lovely wife or have two amazing daughters, that's for sure. I probably would've ended up like Jerry, my birth father, an abusive, womanizing alcoholic. Thankfully my parents didn't, and I didn't either. 

We also keep confusing entitlement with coming of age in today's highly judgmental and polarized culture, trying desperately to understand what's right and wrong and questioning the status quo when it adversely affects ourselves and others in our society. We shame little boys for wearing masks and we still shame little girls from speaking up -- and by God, our girls will always speak up. We shame people who peacefully protest injustice and intolerance. We boo people of all colors linking arms at a football during a moment of unity the night before the anniversary of 9/11. Jesus Christ, what have we become?

Now, if the above statements are really talking about trouble-makers and law breakers of yesterday, today and tomorrow, I would still say they're brutal and unnecessary. I certainly don't approve or excuse lawless destruction we're seeing today, but now I know better than ever why the "the world does not revolve around you" sentiment is still so prolific. 

We think of our societal problems through such a limiting biased lens. Through extremes played out in politics, the news media and social media memes. But our biases are driven by so many more every day moments; it's about the everyday indignities we experience, and the ones we unabashedly pummel others with. That is something Leeno Karumanchery, PhD, one of the speakers we had at my organization's last virtual conference, shared with the attendees in the context of how racism and sexism are perpetuated. 

But it actually applies to all things and all lives and I just can't get it our of my head. Because it's so true, and these things we continue to say to each other, to our children, the shaming and belittling have made it nearly incapable for us to come together on anything. 

This morning when my wife and I meditated, the mantra was I am compassion -- Karuna Hum. The centering thought was, when I have no judgment, I see everyone with kindness. Ephesians 4:32 says, Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

This is the part where all lives matter. Where all of us can learn empathy and compassion for one another, to really listen and understand the everyday indignities we experience and perpetuate. So that we may undo these indignities, one at a time, and our children will learn in kind. Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who passed away last week, had said, "Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time."

Amen. Here we go. 


Other "Days of Coronavirus" posts:

Sunday, September 13, 2020

The Clarity Bridge for Homelessness

We couldn't look away from the still smoldering burned out trailer camper. It was just outside of the city limits on Highway 1, and mask-wearing fire crews had surrounded it and were spraying it down with frothy fire retardant. 

"Homeless," I said.

"Yes, I'm sure," my wife Amy said. "I hope they got out."

"I know, although I don't see an ambulance or another vehicle that would've been towing it, so I'll bet they got out."

We have our own camper now, I thought. Scary.

We continued with our morning walk down the bike path to Wilder Ranch State Park, where just north of the park was the southern end of the CZU August Lightning Complex fires, the ones we nearly had to evacuate from in Santa Cruz. The ones that thousands did have to evacuate from. 

Over 900 homes were destroyed in these fires -- and there continue to be fires burning everywhere along the West Coast from Washington to Oregon to Southern California. These combined with the impact of COVID-19 on our economy and too many people out of work and renters nearing eviction, and the complexity of people experiencing homelessness may increase dramatically. The lack of affordable housing, social and economic inequity, mental health and substance abuse problems only exacerbate a problem that's not new to the Bay Area and many other communities through the U.S. 

During the Great Recession just over 10 years ago, we nearly walked away from our home before being forced into foreclosure having sporadic income at the time and being underwater with our mortgage. We had a newborn and a two-year-old and very little savings. The fear of not having a home for our family weighed heavily on us. We fortunately didn't lose our home and were able to make it work. 

According to the 2019 Santa Cruz County Homeless Census & Survey Comprehensive Report, a survey that's done every two years, there were 122 families with 419 individuals experiencing homelessness more recently (19% of the total homeless population). Slightly more than half (53%) were living unsheltered. Who knows where that number is now -- or where it might be in the next six months. 

We have a trailer camper now and it was ready to go when we thought we had to evacuate due to the fires. We also had multiple friends and family who said we could park it in front of their homes indefinitely if we needed to. We've learned a lot about camping in an RV, living in an RV at least for a few days at a time, and based on our own life experience, I can imagine having to live out of one for who knows how long. And wouldn't want to have to do that. What if our home had burned down? What if we lost our jobs and couldn't pay our bills anymore? So many what if's. 

And our daughters ask us "why are those people living there?", those people experiencing homelessness living in tents and RV's throughout our city and on the edges of the city, and the answers aren't easy to give. Many don't have a choice because they can't afford rent, although some choose to live this way. Plus, there aren't enough homeless shelters available in the city, there aren't any sanctioned and supervised safe parking/camping areas, there are those suffering from mental and emotional problems, addiction, just to name a few. 

Where we live there's a growing RV/tent encampment across the highway from us, still within city limits, but technically under the purview of Caltrans. Just a year and a half ago our city was grappling with short and long-term solutions on how to deal with this growing complex crisis where we live and elsewhere, with city staff researching successful communities dealing with their own homeless crises. At the time, we were also not supportive of any "safe sleeping areas" near us or anywhere in the city. 

According to our city website, The city of Santa Cruz invests millions of dollars each year in a combination of homeless services and reacting and responding to the externalities of homelessness. From law enforcement interventions for people in behavioral health crisis, to clearing encampments, to providing direct funding to local non-profit service providers, the City has addressed this issue from many angles. Despite this significant investment of City resources and time, the problem of homelessness persists and is growing. 

Persists and is growing. According to a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals legal decision from a few years ago, it's "cruel and unusual punishment" to enforce rules that stop homeless people from camping in public places when they have no place else to go. That means states across the 9th Circuit can no longer enforce similar statutes if they don't have enough shelter beds for homeless people sleeping outside.

A lot has changed in the past year and a half, and my wife and I are now advocates for safe sleeping areas in and around our city. There has to be a safe place for everyone in our community -- if they are sanctioned and supervised by the city and county. That was always supposed to be the plan, with millions available in funds from the city and county and multi-layer plans researched and recommended -- and then COVID-19 hit. 

That's the confusing part now. So much fo the information our our city website about homelessness is years old, and when we reached out to Caltrans, they passed responsibility back to the city and county. After reaching out to our mayor, city council, chief of police and one of the county supervisors, only the county supervisor responded. But we do know that law enforcement can't be responsible for it all. 

However, there are seemingly no plans in place, no fully functional transitional camps, not enough shelters to accommodate those in need of housing. And if they're are, we can't find the up-to-date information. There are local non-profits assisting the homeless and that's another channel for us to investigate further, like Housing Matters

What are we supposed to do? And what should we do? Of course we empathize, but these unsanctioned homeless encampments are a health and safety issue because there are no wellness checks that we're aware of, no animal control and no sanitation control (trash and sewage). They're a safety issue for the homeless, especially those families, children and young adults experiencing homelessness, and those of us with families and secure housing.

Here's the biased perception I'm working hard to move past -- the fact that we don't know who these people experiencing homelessness are (as of the 2019 census, 74% of respondents reported they were living in Santa Cruz County at the time they most recently lost their housing), and the same census shows they're not all criminals, addicts or mentally ill. They also don't know who we are, those of us secure in our homes, and the fact there are some of us who may be criminals, addicts and mentally ill. 

So, how do we build a bridge and help as community members beyond donating to local organizations and food banks? How can we volunteer more to help? Voting helps too, but the impacts aren't immediate and are also so polarized today. With local government budgets taking huge revenue hits going forward, a daunting fire recovery only just beginning, and with the weight of today bearing down more and more each day, what else can we do? It's not clear to us -- where's the clarity bridge for homelessness, hope and action? 

We love our community and we've survived earthquakes, fires, high cost of living, economic devastation, a pandemic (still surviving) and more. While many people may be leaving California for all of the above reasons, we are staying and raising our children here and will do what we can to help it heal, to build those new bridges and move forward. We empathize with those experiencing homelessness, because everyone deserves to sleep safely and to have access to the resources they need to improve their lives whatever their circumstance. 


Other "Days of Coronavirus" posts: