For the second time in less than two years, a group of homeless people are camping outside of City Hall to protest an ordinance they view as criminalizing and stopping them from getting a good night’s sleep.
Beginning at 9 o’clock this evening, 20 individuals set up their sleeping bags and other belongings along the southern side of the front entrance of City Hall. Art Rios, who is organizing the protest, says that the people are camping this year for the same reason as they were last year.
“We want the anti-camping ordinance to be suspended,” he says. “We want a campsite that’s safe.”
The anti-camping ordinance is a city-wide ordinance that bans camping on public property. Homeless people and many advocates says the ordinance criminalizes homeless people who are forced to sleep in public spaces at night because they do not have access to shelters or other places to sleep.
For three weeks during May 2008, a group of homeless people ranging in size from 40 to 120 people protested and camped outside of City Hall to protest the anti-camping ordinance and the sidewalk obstruction ordinance (known as the “sit-lie” ordinance), which illegalized sitting or lying down on the sidewalk during the day. In June 2009, that ordinance was ruled unconstitutional by Judge Stephen Bushong in district court.
Rios says that he plans to have organized camps at City Hall Monday through Friday, 9pm to 7am. That, he says, is enough to get eight hours of sleep, but also will not “interrupt City Hall’s business,” as well as get the attention of politicians, advocates, bureaucrats and the public.
“I want to show the City…that a camp size of 10 to 15 people can be here and not bother their day to day process,” Rios says.
There is currently a sub-group of the Coordinating Committee to End Homelessness, the group charged with implementing and overseeing the City’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness, that is currently looking at ways for homeless people who do not have access to shelter to sleep outside at night. The group is hoping to some of those proposals in place in the next three to six months. Rios is skeptical.
“I hear about all these proposals, and there is no action happening,” Rios says.
Check the October 2 edition of Street Roots for more information about the City’s efforts, as well as more information about the protest.
By Amanda Waldroupe