What Became of Laguna’s Tree Sitter

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You may have seen Zoe. She used to sit under the only magnolia tree on Ocean Avenue next to Zinc’s Cafe across from the historic pepper tree. You may have read her sign: “Love Laguna’s Tree Sitter.”

Zoe no longer sits under her tree. She was jailed last month for outstanding warrants. Her bail was set at $28,000. She had done nothing criminal except be homeless. In fact she told me she wanted to thank the many people in town whom she calls “her angels” who stopped by her tree and gave her money or food, or just stopped to talk or to meditate.

Cops write tickets on the homeless for all kinds of things, being a public nuisance, trespassing, camping, littering, loitering. Every ticket is a potential warrant for their arrest. Homeless people have little to no means to show up in court or pay for tickets so the cops come back with warrants for their arrest and they are hauled off to jail. Almost every homeless person goes to jail on a regular basis. It is easier for a non-criminal homeless person to go to jail than a real criminal.

After serving time, Zoe was released. Her hair was combed and she had been bathed and fed in jail, but her faith and spirit are broken. She no longer visits her tree on Ocean Avenue, by police and court orders. Instead she lies out on the hot asphalt of the parking lot of the Alternative Sleeping Location (the shelter for the homeless on the Laguna Canyon Road that is locked all day). There is no bathroom there and no shelter from the sun. No one from town sees her. Her friends and “angels” don’t visit.

Some homeless people are criminals, but really very few. Those that are criminals should be in jail, but it is an atrocity and an injustice, a crime against humanity to criminalize someone and jail them for being homeless. Surely, we in Laguna can do better than this in our treatment of our people like Zoe. Every city has its disenfranchised, and some communities treat street people even worse than we do. We have an opportunity to be an enlightened example for the rest of the nation.

“All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing,” Edmund Burke.

Jessica deStefano, Laguna Beach resident

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