Businesses Implore City to Take Action on Coral Street
Guest Commentary by Phil Kramer, printed in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, October 13, 2019
As Executive Director at Housing Matters, I walk through Coral Street every morning after parking off site. And every morning, I am filled with empathy.
If you haven’t driven through Coral Street recently, you may not know that it has become a sort of mini encampment for people who are homeless. The sidewalks are completely impassable. Personal belongings, bedding and trash are intermingled. Some might look at this and see blight. I look at it and I see human suffering.
And then I shift my gaze. I look past the sidewalks to the businesses on our street, and I see heartache. I see business owners trying to support their families, I see storefronts that were once much more inviting than they are now. I see hard work and deep roots being eroded by a situation that is outside of business owners’ control.
It’s easy to place blame, to feel more indignant for one group or another. And most opinions split homelessness into two issues: the humanitarian crisis of living without a home, and the social crisis of city streets disrupted by the chaos of human suffering. But they are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they’re inextricable from one another. Empathy is not a zero sum game.
We need more services, but when we introduce more services, we need proactive support from the City of Santa Cruz and Santa Cruz County to ensure neighborhoods are not affected in the way that Coral Street has been. Until we get that support, we can expect to see a reluctance to invest in more services, because it seems those services are exclusively interested in serving people experiencing homelessness, with disregard for businesses and housed neighbors.
Ultimately, when we have adequate services and resources, the entire community will experience less hardship.
We can live in the place, authentically, of empathy for all. And until we do, progress will be hard to come by.
On Wednesday, representatives from Harvey West neighborhood businesses gathered in the main dining hall at Housing Matters to discuss the situation on Coral Street.
The businesses are hurting.
The people living on Coral Street are clearly hurting. And we need solutions, now. Solutions that will carry forward when additional service centers are built. Support that will be a given to any neighborhood affected by the crisis of homelessness.
The product of that meeting was an open letter to the City of Santa Cruz, printed in full below. It’s time for action.
An Open Letter to Santa Cruz City Leaders,
We, members of the Harvey West business community, appeal to the City to take immediate action to improve the safety and accessibility of Coral Street, a main conduit in our neighborhood, and all affected adjacent streets. Coral Street is essentially unusable. Since the closure of “Ross Camp” in May, Coral Street has become a de facto gathering place for dozens of displaced people to congregate. Illegal drug use is rampant. Trash and discarded belongings clog the sidewalks and spill to the street.
As a result, the sidewalks and parking lanes on both sides of Coral Street are impossible to access, creating safety concerns for anyone traveling through the area. Pedestrians and cyclists must attempt to negotiate a labyrinth of trash, tents, bicycles and people, or be forced to utilize the vehicle lanes, creating an additional hazard on our busy street. Vehicles — including numerous large commercial trucks as well as families returning from activities at Harvey West Park or shopping at Costco — must now navigate around pedestrians and cyclists in the street.
This environment affects our businesses. Simply put, from a customer experience perspective, people don’t feel safe.
The City needs to decide if this is an acceptable use of our shared public space.
We ask that the City commit to keeping Coral Street – and adjacent streets – and all affected sidewalks accessible to all through measures deemed appropriate by the City.
Harvey West business community