Jazmine’s story: Where did the unhoused from the Benchlands go?


Lookout has been wondering what happened to the 250-300 people who lived in Santa Cruz’s largest homeless encampment, known as the Benchlands, after the city closed it in the fall. Most are untracked and untrackable, as they didn’t utilize city services. But we kept asking and looking. In this video, Community Voices talks to Jazmine, a massage therapist, whom we interviewed in August when she lived in a tent in the Benchlands. She now lives in a small trailer in the Santa Cruz Mountains. She tells us her post-Benchlands experience, talks about what it feels like to be unhoused, how easy it is to fall and how hard it is to get back up.

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Fall and winter storms have turned the Benchlands — formerly home to 250-300 unhoused people in Santa Cruz — into a flooded, muddy, dangerous mess.

The City of Santa Cruz shut down the Benchlands camp (located off Ocean Street behind the county building) in the fall, just before the rains hit.

Some of its inhabitants got shelter from the city or scrounged spaces to live with family or friends, in vehicles or doorways. Others hiked into the Santa Cruz Mountains, along Highway 9, near Harvey West Park or simply pitched a tent on the nearest patch of earth they could find.

We often talk about “the unhoused” in Santa Cruz County, but we rarely talk to them. Here, in video clips, Lookout’s...

Now, during this historic season of rain, Lookout’s Community Voices has wondered how these unhoused are faring, where they are living and what they want the public to know about their lives.

No one is tracking them. Not service agencies. Not the county or city.

In this video, the first in a series to appear in coming weeks, we talk to Jazmine, whom we interviewed in August when she lived in the Benchlands. She now lives in a trailer on property owned by her family in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Her partner and many of her friends remain without shelter.

The video doesn’t answer all our questions about how our community deals with the unhoused. But it offers a unique and honest glimpse into Jazmine’s experience and the huge difference having a safe place to live has made in her life.

In the interview, she says the Benchlands needed to close, but she decries the way the city went about it, insisting it could have been handled better, more humanely.

“We don’t live in a society that takes care of our people,” she says.

She rails against the idea that people who are without homes have done something to deserve their fate. It’s not “because you have done something wrong,” that you end up unhoused, she says. “It’s because life happens.”

And once you are out there, she insists “it is so much harder” to climb back — to find housing and the equilibrium to hold down a job and a schedule.

Listen to her talk about her life in the Benchlands, her worries for those still unhoused and how she is finding her way out.

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