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Santa Cruz Sleeping Ban Struggle (for Street Spirit newspaper)
The December issue of the S.F. Bay Area homeless monthly newspaper will include the following story on the Sleeping Ban, championed by Mayor Ryan Coonerty. Street Spirit is available through HUFF (423-4833) as well as in the Main Branch of the city library.
The Santa Cruz Sleeping Ban is a local law that defines sleeping at night as “camping” and prescribes a $97 fine for falling asleep outside a house or hotel within City limits. Using one’s vehicle as housing is illegal, even though the city provides no alternatives. The County has been out of compliance with its affordable housing element for decades. Since there’s shelter space in winter for only 160 of the city’s 1500-2000 homeless residents, the law in effect makes it a crime to be homeless at night, unless you stay awake.
The continued flow of money and consumerism has become more important then human life or the basic rights we are all supposed to equally share in, or so it seems from the perspective of those that run our city. Every time we allow a right to be taken away from any class of people we are destroying our own rights. By allowing the government to make and keep such laws we only open the door for more.
Criminalizing the act of sleeping or any necessity would seem a joke. People have to sleep and will regardless of what law are in place. The problem is telling someone they cannot sleep because they are poor or because they have no house is paramount to having “Black Only” drinking fountains. Sleeping allowed for those with homes; sleeping banned for those without.
Recently in Santa Cruz the Sleeping Ban debate has become heated. After a week-long protest camp out in August, where Homies for the Homeless created a safe zone for 30-40 homeless people at City Hall [see September Street Spirit], the Santa Cruz Police Department and the local newspaper, the Sentinel vilified the protesters--though the only tickets issued were for sleeping.
In subsequent stories--the Sentinel highlighted graffitists who painted “Fuck the Sleeping Ban” on City Hall. In their on-line forum subsequently, the bigots that rule over the Sentinel forums offered up solutions from lining up the homeless to be shot, pesticiding them, and returning to the “troll busting 80’s”. As Bob Patton of the Human Rights Organization wrote in response, “The South will not rise again.”
Protesters have continued Sunday afternoon tabling at the Bookshop Santa Cruz--owned by the Coonerty family where Ryan Coonerty is chief worker. The Coonerty’s do by far have the most power over the shaping of downtown the than any other merchant in a long time.
Chanting and singing homeless Xmas carols, the protesters sport “Banned at the Bookshop” stickers (in response to letters from Coonerty banning them from the bookstore for their “cowardly” protest". They’ve also taken polls on the prevalence of police profiling the poor, urged a boycott of the bookshop, and encouraged homeless people to become plaintiffs in a new lawsuit against the Sleeping ban.
Ryan Coonerty, who is becoming Mayor as I write this, has recently participated in a debate over the Sleeping Ban on Community TV Voices from the Village LIVE. You can watch the debate on-line at
http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2007/11/14/18461204.php or at
HUFF (Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom) activist Robert Norse was not allowed in the debate, despite his knowledge of the laws, and endless years battling City Council and protesting the Sleeping Ban and other laws that are aimed at the poor. The City would be wise to embrace these people for their knowledge alone. This was evident during the debate.
Coonerty refused to debate if Norse was part of the panel. Norse explained subsequently that he hid behind a curtain (“to avoid scaring Ryan away”). When the host called for audience questions, Norse emerged to challenge Coonerty to allow safe sleeping zones and the right to sleep not anywhere-and-everywhere, but somewhere.
Vice mayor Coonerty came across as a representative of business. His lack of knowledge concerning the ordinance, fines, available shelter and financing astounds me. He states they do not take State and Federal funds. This is untrue. The Walk in Shelter is not permitted to allow Medicinal Marijuana patients because of the federal money they receive. Craig Canada is banned from the shelter for just this reason [see Street Spirit August 2007]
Coonerty did not even know the cost of a Sleeping Ban ticket quoting 60.00 dollars when in reality it is $97.00 dollars. Regardless the reason for his ignorance, it shows a tremendous lack of concern for the impoverished in Santa Cruz. This also became evident at a subsequent Sustainable Living Community TV discussion, where his stances on the issues were said to be a "path to a City that caterers only to the elite" by some in the panel.
Throughout the years the City Council has ignored public commentary regarding this subject and continued passing laws aimed at the homeless. Recently the Council passed a law championed by Coonerty banning the public from public parking lots except to park a vehicle or walk directly through; the target: homeless people and “undesirables”. Santa Cruz’s Food Not Bombs will not be able to legally serve food in the parking lot where it has done so for the last decade.
For years 4 SAFE (Society for Artistic Freedom and Expression/ Street performers Against Foolish Enforcement) has held weekly musical munch-in’s on the sidewalk on Santa Cruz’ downtown Pacific Avenue. Last week SCPD moved to use noise ordinances to order people along.
Santa Cruz is now among the top 15 Cities with the worst laws in the country penalizing poverty according to the National Coalition to end Homelessness. Sleep-crime ticketing is up 50% from last year. In the nearby wilderness areas, City Ranger John Wallace’s beefed-up forces harass and cite campers and regularly destroy the property of homeless people in violation of the 4th Amendment (and the Federal Court’s recent Kincaid decision in Fresno).
Downtown authorities resort to primitive social engineering “solutions” like removing benches where poor and street people gather from the main street, putting in change-making machines (which create a 100’ no sitting/no panhandling zone around them), and increasing the terror component of police actions (four police officers surrounded a cowering homeless man in front of the outdoor restaurant Kianti’s recently, for sitting off to the side on the sidewalk.
A deepening pattern of anti-homeless police behavior is emerging. Craig Canada, recently assaulted by a Pizza My Heart patron after Canada bought a slice of pizza and tried to use the bathroom, found himself taken to jail and charged with battery. Donna Deiss, of the vehicle dwellers group, LIVE (Living in Vehicles Excellently) is facing citations for refusing to move her vehicle from a beach side parking lot, restricted to eliminate homeless RVs. Shane Maxfield, Deiss’s former partner is an AIDS-disabled man, who faced a court trial for sitting with his bunny Fluffy on the sidewalk in front of the Pacific Cookie Company.
Sleep--as any fool knows--is a human necessity--hence a human right. SCMC 6.36.010b, known as the "blanket ban", makes it illegal to set-up any bedding, even just having a blanket covering you on a park bench, between the same hours, 11 p.m. and 8:30 a.m.
In Los Angeles, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) took on the Jones case which ended recently in a settlement. The Jones settlement was controversial in some quarters since it was reportedly done without the permission of the plaintiffs or input from homeless advocacy groups. The Jones settlement enjoined police from arresting homeless people from sleeping on the sidewalk from 9 PM to 6 AM, provided sleepers were 10’ away from businesses and until the City built 1250 units of supportive housing.
In Santa Cruz, the local ACLU sat on its hands for decades when approached about Sleeping Ban human rights violations. Even after the Jones precedent from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals came down in April 2006, the Santa Cruz ACLU expressed no interest in either initiating a lawsuit or supporting one being prepared by local activists.
When Norse and Bernard Klitzner of the Human Rights Organization came to a public meeting of the ACLU with a sign urging the ACLU to end the Sleeping Ban, Board of Directors member Mike Rotkin called the police to have them banned. Ironically, the police declined to do so, even though Rotkin was also a former mayor and sitting Council member (and an avid supporter of the Sleeping Ban). Coonerty himself claims to be a “constitutional lawyer” who teaches classes at nearby colleges. For details of the ACLU fiasco see http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2007/08/26/18443532.php.
Activists are pressing on with a lawsuit to ban police ticketing of the homeless for the “crime” of sleeping. They face new hurdles. The Jones Decision’ which found it Cruel and unusual punishment to cite someone for sleeping if adequate shelter was not available, can no longer be cited as precedent, due to the precipitous ACLU settlement there mentioned above which vacated and de-published the decision.
Despite this, San Diego has ordered police to stop busting the homeless for sleeping at night; Richmond changed its law to stop ticketing if there is no shelter space; Fresno, under pressure from activists and attorneys, faces a full-scale class-action trial next summer for destroying homeless property. Sacramento has begun its own lawsuit against its Sleeping Ban. Santa Cruz human rights supporters have plenty of company.