Letter to the editor: There’s no avoiding homelessness in conversations about downtown Santa Cruz

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To the editor:

Lookout’s article about the state of downtown retail space was good — informative, detailed, well-researched and well-written — up to a point. The elephant in the room in any article that talks about downtown Santa Cruz is the homeless situation. As far as I could tell, there was no mention of this.

It’s not that Lookout has avoided this subject in general; however, if you’re going to write about the woes of downtown, you have to put homelessness into the mix, as touchy a subject as it is.

When we first moved here in 1994, we loved downtown. It was vibrant, it had interesting stores, great places to eat, get coffee, look at new books on the shelves, see a movie. And the street kiosks were charming and quirky. It has slowly, inexorably, become a place where we do not like to go.

I certainly would never go there at night without my husband — and I say this as someone who was a single woman living in Manhattan in the bad ol’ 1970s. I’m not afraid of a little confrontation, but it has become untenable, unpleasant, unsafe, and unsanitary. We enjoy eating out, and downtown has some good restaurants, but we usually end up at one of the Westside ones or in one of the other towns. We have been yelled at and threatened. We have stepped over many of these poor souls, and there doesn’t seem to be enough police presence. And truthfully, would we want to go to a place where that was a necessity?

Lookout writes about Starbucks closing. Several years ago, there was an article about how they simply could not keep up with the number of homeless using their bathroom, abusing patrons — well, you know. For a Starbucks to close in this town, it must be pretty bad.

And we are not alone. We know many people, not only our generation, but younger, who simply don’t want the hassle. Until the city of Santa Cruz does something constructive about the deterioration of downtown from the homeless, businesses will not want to locate here.

You can provide all the rationale you want — high real estate prices, the need for smaller stores, the pandemic — but the ugly secret is that this city has let this become a profound problem for the small businesses who wish to thrive here, but cannot if the customers do not wish to come.

Judy Schultze