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End the Sleeping Ban - open letter to council
by WM
Thursday Aug 16th, 2007 12:44 PM
The Jones v. City of Los Angeles decision in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that criminalization of homelessness amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. In the words of the judge writing the majority decision: "The Eighth Amendment prohibits the City from punishing involuntary sitting, lying, or sleeping on public sidewalks that is an unavoidable consequence of being human and homeless without shelter in the City of Los Angeles,"
An open letter to the city council regarding the sleeping ban


Dear Mayor, Vice-Mayor, and Esteemed City Council Members:

For the most part, I don't have any illusions that you will respond positively to either urgent pleas or well-reasoned arguments from mere citizens who are unconnected to business interests in this town. At least that's the impression I've received after a long string of fights in which city council has consistently sided with moneyed interests over grassroots efforts. Struggles that come to mind: police spying, downtown public plaza, hotel development, minimum-wage increase, boardwalk expansion, and of course, the downtown ordinances and the sleeping ban.

However, in my own Quixotic way, I keep trying to reach you. Perhaps, this request will resolve the open question of whether you indeed represent the people or only the institution of city government.

Please immediately end the sleeping ban.

The Jones v. City of Los Angeles decision in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that criminalization of homelessness amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. In the words of the judge writing the majority decision: "The Eighth Amendment prohibits the City from punishing involuntary sitting, lying, or sleeping on public sidewalks that is an unavoidable consequence of being human and homeless without shelter in the City of Los Angeles,"

Clearly, in a town that can nightly house a mere fraction of the homeless population, the decision applies to Santa Cruz as well. Each night that the sleeping ban remains, the city makes itself vulnerable to a class action lawsuit.

It seems obvious that in this tourist town that there is in place a de facto strategy to either push the visible homeless population out of town, or further underground. The business community is less cagey about their hatred of the homeless.

When it comes to national issues, the Santa Cruz City Council has always been impressively proactive and progressive. War, environment, corruption, whatever the debate, as long as it doesn't effect local business, the city council is on the humane and compassionate side of the issue. But when it comes to local issues, the city council has made downright regressive policy.

Like something out of a dystopian sci-fi movie, the message is loud and clear, if you are not part of the system, you are a criminal. In this sleepy little liberal town, sleeping outside is a crime. And anyone who falls off of the treadmill of earn-and spend (by accident or choice) -- anyone who can't afford five, six, seven hundred dollar rents in Santa Cruz -- might well find themselves in jail.

But the city government and your moneyed constituency are going to have to wake up to the economic realities of living in 21st century America. The gap between the richest and the poorest in this society continues to grow and the number of poor people continues to increase. Even here in Santa Cruz. Very soon, there will be nowhere left to push the undesirables and eventually they will begin to push back.

Beyond just an issue of boring old poverty (yes, we should do something about that, shouldn't we?), there is a fundamental issue at stake: the basic freedom to exist on this planet outside of the system.

Sincerely,

Wes Modes