Oral Histories are a window into the human realities of others’ lives and allow us to experience the common humanity between ourselves and others.
Why This Project?
My neighborhood in Santa Cruz, where I have lived for 20 years, includes, like all our neighborhoods, people who are experiencing homelessness. Over time, I became acquainted with this community. Since I walk daily, usually in my neighborhood, I encountered some of the same folks every day. I discovered that the community changes over time. People die. People move on (or rather, are moved on and out, but that’s another story). But there’s always a core of folks in the neighborhood I know and hang out with a little. I wondered about people’s stories, and I heard many. I wondered at the great diversity of people’s histories, and the many reasons for their dislocation, and the creative, courageous ways people cope daily with their situations. So, the Oral Histories Project was born, in order to be able to give voice and face to people who are so sadly invisible and powerless in Santa Cruz, and in hopes of beginning to change the stark misconceptions and stereotypes in Santa Cruz about people experiencing homelessness.
People experiencing homelessness are often considered “the other,” and are marginalized to the extreme edges of housed society. They are often invisible to housed communities, and their voices have been silenced.
The 40 people whose stories appear on this website represent some of the widely diverse group of people who are experiencing homelessness in Santa Cruz, California. In the project, we have attempted to show, in video, photos, and story texts, that our homeless neighbors come to homelessness from a variety of different backgrounds and for a number of reasons. By meeting our homeless neighbors face to face, we can understand that they each have hopes and dreams for themselves. We can see that they share in common the courage, resilience, strength, and creativity it takes to survive daily on the streets of Santa Cruz.
This project addresses some of the misconceptions in the Santa Cruz housed community about who our vulnerable homeless neighbors are, the multiple paths that lead to homelessness, and the variable needs of this population. Our community’s misunderstandings have caused fear, mutual mistrust, and violence to the daily lives of people who live in the margins of our town as “the other.” Through the window of stories, we become acquainted with and can begin to better understand who our homeless neighbors are, and the issues they face. We can heal some of the damage we have caused to ourselves and others. We can experience the common humanity between ourselves and others. People experiencing homelessness are not the other.
The oral histories of Santa Cruz’s most vulnerable population gives voice to a community who is silenced, and gives face to the individuals who live as our neighbors on the streets of Santa Cruz.
History of Support for People Experiencing Homelessness in Santa Cruz
From the 1970s through the early 1990s, the city of Santa Cruz worked with the homeless population through several city-supported and community initiatives, especially through the work of Paul Lee and Page Smith. In the 1990s, the Rebele Family Shelter was built, Coral Street services were expanded and were partially funded by the city. But at the same time, as homeless population increased, this approach changed, and the city began to support increasingly punitive measures in response to some residents’ demand that the homeless problem be quickly contained or eliminated.
Other residents, alarmed at the shift away from compassion and the increasing dehumanizing of the homeless, have supported data collection efforts to increase community understanding of the problem. According to the 2013 Santa Cruz County Homeless Census and Survey there are 3536 homeless people in Santa Cruz County, with only 18% sheltered.
While important, this data omits the rich human experiences that can lead to more compassionate understanding of the complex issues of the causes of homelessness.
The oral histories gathered in this project reveal the uniqueness of each person’s history, experiencing homelessness, give us a glimpse into the extreme hardships they face daily in order to survive, and offer us some understanding of people’s hopes for safe and productive futures. They also show their vulnerability, resilience, and resourcefulness.
The Oral Histories project asks the questions:
- Who are the unique individuals who make up the homeless communities of Santa Cruz?
- What are the reasons that people become homeless in Santa Cruz?
- What are people’s daily lives like, living and sleeping on the streets of Santa Cruz?
- What unites homeless and housed people in a common humanity?
The Oral Histories project has very specific goals in its dissemination of stories of those experiencing homelessness in Santa Cruz:
For people experiencing homelessness:
- Support people to speak for themselves, in their own voices
- Give a face to homelessness
- Foster self respect, dignity, and self worth
For housed Santa Cruz residents:
- Increase understanding of the daily struggles for survival by people experiencing homelessness
- Reduce misunderstandings of the causes of homelessness
- Change the civic discourse about homelessness by:
-Encouraging human connections and critical inquiry
-Reducing fear of “the other”
-Changing stereotypes and assumptions about homelessness
- Increase the possible ways of responding to homelessness in Santa Cruz through better understanding of the issues
Multimedia distribution of Oral Histories in 2014
The project aims to distribute the oral histories as widely as possible in Santa Cruz through the following means:
- Website: www.oralhistoriesproject.org January, 2014
- YouTube and Facebook January, 2014
- Presentations to groups February-June, 2014
- Photo Exhibit, Santa Cruz Public Library, April 1-June 30
- Theatre performance, June
- Book, forthcoming
It is critical that the narrative about homelessness in Santa Cruz be positively changed. Your support of this project will help to increase the dignity and respect for our homeless neighbors, and has the potential to decrease their suffering.
The project welcomes
- an invitation to offer a presentation to your group or organization
- appreciates your advocacy of the project
- and receives all donations appreciatively
Please go to our DONATE page, or contact Annette March, Project Director, at (831) 423-9920 or firstname.lastname@example.org.