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Sleeping Ban at Council: Trade Your Constitutional Rights for a Place on Our Waiting List?

by Robert Norse
Item #28 on Tuesday's Afternoon City Council Session (no evening session, which disadvantages those who work) is a modification of MC 6.36, the City's notorious anti-homeless Camping Ordinance. It has been the subject of scores of protests over the years and thousands of signatures urging its repeal. Other major cities have had their Sleeping Bans overturned by the courts or by the threat of court action (Richmond, Los Angeles, San Diego, Laguna Beach, Fresno) and bans are being challenged in other cities (Sacramento, Santa Monica, Santa Barbara). The ongoing Peacecamp2010 sleep-out on the sidewalk in front of City Hall is demanding the City repeal the law and dismiss all past citations. Instead police and city authorities have continued to ticket and harass, introducing new measures banning protest at night, using other laws to attack protesters, and getting courts to impose OR conditions that ban protesters from returning to the protest.

Perhaps in response to the Jones and Spencer settlements in southern California a few years ago, perhaps in defensive response to the questions raised by Peacecamp2010, City Council has quietly put on its afternoon agenda at 3 PM the first modification of the Camping Ordinance in 8 years, and the first substantive one in 11 years. Acting Mayor Ryan Coonerty (Mayor Rotkin is reportedly away on vacation in Italy) is likely to limit discussion of the ordinance to 2 minutes per speaker.
The amendment being proposed (by City Attorney John Barisone) reads as follows:


BE IT ORDAINED By the City Of Santa Cruz As Follows:

Section 1. Section 6.36.055 of the Santa Cruz Municipal Code is hereby amended to read as follows:


(a) A person shall not be in violation of this chapter if, at the time of his or her citation for a violation of this chapter either: the winter shelter at the Santa Cruz National Guard Armory is filled to capacity; or the person is currently on the waiting list for shelter service through one of the shelter programs offered by the Homeless Services Center or the River Street Shelter in Santa Cruz.

(b) Any citation issued for a violation of this chapter shall be dismissed by the city attorney in the interest of justice if, at the time of citation issuance, the winter shelter at the Santa Cruz National Guard Armory is filled to capacity or the recipient of the citation demonstrates that on the date of the citation he or she was currently on the waiting list for shelter service through one of the shelter programs offered by the Homeless Services Center or the River Street Shelter in Santa Cruz.

Section 2. This ordinance shall take effect and be in force thirty (30) days after its final adoption.

The ordinance requires two readings, so it will likely be passed at the earliest on September 28th and go into effect a month later. It is likely a done deal as it was proposed by the City Attorney, and usually what he, the City Manager, the Police Chief, the RDA head, or the Head of Parks and Rec proposes--goes.

On the positive side.
1. There may be a shorter journey to dismiss ticket. The new law seems to slightly shortcut The Long Dusty Road to Getting Tickets Dismissed by requiring the City Attorney to dismiss them the (instead of making the Sleeping Ban victim go back to the Homeless Services Center [HSC], then go back to court). The City Attorney's office is more centrally located and has longer hours than the courts and is more accessible generally. The City Attorney, however, may not want homeless ragamuffins coming in and out on a regular basis, and so may reroute them to the more distant HSC.
2, This new provision explicitly requires the City Attorney to dismiss tickets during the late spring, early summer, and early fall--when the Winter Armory Shelter is closed--provided you're in the good graces of the HSC and on their waiting list at the time of the citation. This is a meaningful change from the current law which mentioned on the Winter Armory Shelter.
3. This law shows the power of direct action and civil disobedience to force bureaucrats, politicians and poverty pimps to rush to cover their asses. It also exposes their unwillingness to address the real problem. It may be an indication that more pressure will produce more results.
4. If people are willing to register under this system (which many may not), it may show more sharply the dimensions of the depression here in Santa Cruz.
5. It puts on the agenda a taboo subject which has always been regarded as political poison, perhaps opening a forbidden door, which once opened, will be harder to close again.

On the negative side:
1. There is nothing in this law requiring the HSC to put anyone on a waiiting list. What are the criteria for getting on it? How long is it? When I spoke with Daniel White, the Shelter Intake guy, he told me the list is 25 names long. Considering there are far more than 1000 unsheltered people in Santa Cruz, this seems a very tight squeeze, unless it is expanded to include hundreds of names.
1a. People with behavior problems, disagreement with HSC staff, users of medical marijuana, those dodging warrants (for such things as the wonderful Sitting Ban, Smoking Ban, and other Ban tickets downtown) who don't want their names recorded, will still be facing these abusive tickets for life-sustaining behavior.
2. Does this mean that one need only sign up for the waiting list and then feel okay bringing tickets to the city attorney for dismissing? Or are there check-in requirements?
3. What kind of ID is going to be required? How about those whose ID have been taken and not returned by the police (as in the recent raids on Peacecamp2010?)? Or ID lost or stolen?
4. According to long-time activist and former Homeless Issues Task Force Chair Linda Lemaster, the HSC until a few months ago was regularly issuing "we were full on that date" letters to people who came in and requested one (at which time you were put on the waiting list) whether you had been on the waiting list when the citation was given or not. After Peacecamp2010 started, the policy suddenly changed, and the HSC refused to issue letters to many PeaceCamp2010 people until they threatened to bring the media with them. The key point, the elephant in the living room being ignored by HSC and city is: THERE HAS BEEN NO WALK-IN SHELTER AVAILABLE ANY NIGHT SINCE THE ARMORY CLOSED ON APRIL 15TH AND WILL BE NONE UNTIL IT OPENS---IF IT DOES-- ON NOVEMBER 15TH.
5. Though Linda, Ed Frey, and I urged the HSC Board to issue a simple letter stating that they had waiting lists 4-6 weeks long, space in their Paul Lee Loft for only 48 people, and no walk-in emergency shelter available for the time period mentioned above, they declined to do so. They also wouldn't discuss the issue at their Board meeting (even though they could have done so informally because they had no quorum). Such a letter would have put the police on notice that there was an emergency lack of shelter and deterred them from writing tickets. Instead dozens of tickets have been written since then--in spite of the 'no shelter" reality--many of them to drive away the protesters from City Hall. The public nature of this letter would also pressure the City Council and SCPD to act reasonably and do what other cities have done: stop ticketing for life-sustaining behavior like sleeping.
6. Ed Frey's original demand to the HSC and the City was that the police not cite people unless a shelter bed was available on any particular night. The HSC Board said it had a security guard at their shelter at night who perhaps could give that kind of answer to the police, but there was no rush to set it up as a regular system. Sally Willliams, the HSC Board of Directors Chair, did agree to meet with me, Ed Frey, Linda Lemaster, and attorney Kate Wells at a later time. This meeting has not yet happened. However the fact is that as of today, the HSC will not issue "no shelter for the summer" letters exposing the broad dimensions of the shelter emergency nor set up a clear system that clarifies for police on any particular night whether there is a shelter bed.
7. This ordinance change still allows police to wake up, interrogate, ID, warrant check, search, ticket, and even arrest homeless people on a charge of sleeping, covering up with blankets, or camping. These abuses will happen even though the police, the HSC, and the City Council know full well that those being harassed are factually innocent--given the lack of shelter space. Other cities have simply told the police to not issue tickets at night.

It's the same demand as 22 years ago when people slept outside of City Council just like they're doing now: Ticket people for littering, for taking a dump or a piss in public (though after you've opened up some public bathrooms!), for disturbing the peace, for despoiling the environment: but not for sleeping, covering up with blankets, or camping.

This ordinance change, in spite of being incrementally positive, begs the question, justifies collusion of the HSC bosses with the ongoing harassment of homeless people under the Sleeping Ban, and misses the point--which even neanderthals in Los Angeles and San Diego have picked up on: it violates a basic human right and need to arrest someone for sleeping when there is no legal place for them to go. It is cruel and unusual punishment, banned by the Constitution.

Historically, the City's own Homeless Issues Task Force [HITF] came out against it in 1999. (See

What's needed is to lift the ban on camping, sleeping, and blankets as recommended by the HITF and to set up reasonable regulation of camping. A main objective of business and conservative up-scale residents, preying on exaggerated fears of "crime", is to run homeless people out of sight if not out of town (while pretending they're getting them into non-existent or woefully inadequate programs). Hence reasonable solutions have had little leverage against the anti-homeless scapegoating (and violence) going on. Instead the City has been closing down one public space after another, making laws more punitive, adding more police, etc.--all an absurd response to dealing with the inevitable reality of the human need to sleep--not anywhere and everywhere, but somewhere at night.l

There was no discussion of this proposed change either with the Peacecamp2010 protesters or other homeless activists. There has been no mention of it in the Santa Cruz Sentinel. It's another piece of stealth legislation being slipped through.

Perhaps in response to the Jones and Spencer settlements in southern California a few years ago, perhaps in defensive response to the questions raised by Peacecamp2010, perhaps in response to the reality that the courts will acquit camping tickets based on the "necessity" defense, so the business of ticketing sleepers is really a kind of nasty bluff.

To get some idea of the small amount spent on homeless shelter, consider that the entire amount spent on the Homeless Services Center is less than $170,000 annually; 8 new police positions were filled in a behind-closed-doors Council meeting in May at a cost of $1 million; the Council is planning to pass a $4.1 million contract to Camp, Dresser, and McKee--whom human rights groups call war profiteers over in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The change comes from the offices of City Attorney John Barisone--who has recently been trying unsuccessfully to convict Anna Richardson and Miguel de Leon of "camping" because they've fallen asleep on several occasions in the last year while hauling their stuff around the downtown (See "Jail For Sleep Permanent Injunction Trial Resumes" at ).

The staff report can be found at

The wording of the ordinance change is at

PR for current token homeless shelter services:

City Council should be contacted at 831-420-5020 or e-mailed at citycouncil [at] .

More important: Peacecamp2010 has nightly meetings at 8:15 front of City Hall. Its website is . Kick down for blankets, sleeping bags, food, and other survival items.

Support HUFF (Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom) with volunteer time by callling me at 423-4833 or e-mailing me at rnorse3 [at]

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Robert Norse
Mon, Sep 13, 2010 11:58PM
Mon, Sep 13, 2010 6:24PM
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