August 12, 2010
found online at: http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/ci_15751792?source=most_viewed
NOTE TO READER: This article appears to be an updated version of yesterday's story. --Ed.
SANTA CRUZ -- One person was ticketed when a six-week protest of the Santa Cruz camping ban took up residence on the City Hall lawn early Wednesday.
The so-called Peace Camp 2010 changed tactics overnight when campers moved their demonstration from the county courthouse steps to the city property. Protest leader Christopher Doyon said they moved so they could better target the city ordinance that prohibits camping from 11 p.m. to 8:30 a.m.
Wednesday morning, a few men rested under a tree on the City Hall lawn while a woman and her puppy sat amid cardboard protest signs.
"We have not heard anything from City Hall," said the woman, who goes by Red. "Basically, we'd like people to notice."
A First Alarm security guard patrolling city property noticed the camping demonstration around 5 a.m. and notified police. A 20-year-old Salinas man was cited, according to police.
Officers will return nightly to ticket demonstrators, Deputy Santa Cruz Police Chief Kevin Vogel said.
"We're not going to issue any warnings," Vogel said. "The people involved in this protest have been warned for the past six weeks."
The demonstration began July Fourth on a swath of county-owned land in front of the Santa Cruz County Courthouse. Initially billed as a sleep-only protest, the activity morphed into an all-day hangout and drew criticism because of health and safety concerns.
Demonstrators were cited for violating a state anti-lodging law, notthe so-called "camping ban" that has been contested on and off in Santa Cruz for years.
The sleep-in was designed to specifically violate the municipal ordinance, but county officials said they couldn't enforce the city's law, while city police said they wouldn't write tickets on county property.
Demonstrators want the City Council to rescind the no-camping law and forgive all tickets ever issued under it. Red said it's unfair for people to have to pay hundreds of dollars in fines for falling asleep.
She said she started living on the street in May when her motor home broke down, was towed and sold at auction. She can't go to the homeless shelter because her pup, 8-month-old Wiley, isn't allowed, she said. Also, according to protesters, all of the beds at the Homeless Services Center on Coral Street are taken.
"There's no room at the shelter," Red said. "There's absolutely nowhere for us to go."
City Attorney John Barisone typically dismisses camping tickets if the shelters were full the night the citations were issued. However, Vogel said officers would continue to cite campers at the City Hall demonstration regardless of the situation at the shelter.
"The plan is enforcement," he said. "City Hall is not a place for people to sleep during the nighttime hours."
Councilman Don Lane, a longtime volunteer at the Homeless Services Center, said he supports ticketing those who violate the camping ban.
"The folks who are protesting are not really doing any favors to the greater homeless community in Santa Cruz, most of whom aren't involved in that protest," Lane said, adding that the demonstration tests the community's will to help those who truly need it. "People don't always make a distinction between activists trying to make a political point and the average homeless person who is just trying to get services and make their life a little better."
Lane acknowledged shelter beds can be hard to come by, but he said he doesn't believe the demonstrators have necessarily tried to seek shelter.
"From their perspective, they want the camping law to be enforced and get arrested to make a political point," he said. "What we're trying to do is say to people who are vulnerable to homelessness, 'At least go over and get on a waiting list.'"
Monica Martinez, executive director, confirmed there were no beds available Wednesday and that only five people signed up for the list, which is consistent with the five to 10 people who sign up on average every day. The center has 46 beds available for 30 days at a time, and every Monday beds open for those who are leaving.
"It could take a couple of days or it could take a couple of weeks, but those people who want beds get beds at the center," she said.
The River Street Shelter, a separate facility on the same Harvey West property as the Homeless Services Center, has a 32-bed emergency shelter for adults to stay up to 30 days, but about 60 percent of the space is set aside for referrals from the county mental health agency for clients to stay up to 90 days. The remainder of the beds are subject to a waiting list that requires checking in every two days.