Sunday, April 17, 2016

Community Sleepout #40

The 40th community sleepout to protest laws that criminalize homelessness was held at Santa Cruz City Hall on April 12.

Individuals sleep on the sidewalk in front of Santa Cruz City Hall

Santa Cruz City Hall

Nearby at the public library, a person sleeps on the walkway using an "emergency" blanket

Monday, April 11, 2016

Community Sleepout #39

April 5 marked the 39th community sleepout organized at Santa Cruz City Hall to oppose local laws that criminalize homelessness.

Since July 4, individuals have been protesting laws they feel are discriminatory by breaking them. The primary law they oppose is the camping ban, which prohibits sleeping in public between the hours of 11 pm and 8:30 am within the City of Santa Cruz.

As a group, their goal is to stay through the night and sleep at City Hall. Some of the participants have homes of their own and some do not. Many call themselves "Freedom Sleepers."

The Tuesday night sleepouts have become a destination point for many people on the street. Some return each week to sleep with a group. Others pass by quickly to grab a bite to eat. Many hope to find a blanket or some form of bedding. Supplies are often limited, however, and some people wind up sleeping directly on the sidewalk with nothing.

Santa Cruz City Hall

Sleeping on the sidewalk with only one blanket

Two people sleep together on the sidewalk without any bedding

A plate of PBJ sandwiches was left to share, sleepers can be seen in the background

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Business as Usual: SCPD Targets Homeless after City Council Re-Affirms Camping Ban

On the rain-swept evening of March 8, the Santa Cruz City Council voted 5-2 to re-affirm the city's camping ban, which outlaws sleeping in public with or without bedding, and prohibits sleeping in cars, between the hours of 11pm and 8:30am. Supporters of the "Right to Rest" had hoped the city council would remove references to the word "sleep" from the ordinance, but the majority of council members voted to keep the law exactly as it is presently written. Shortly after the vote concluded, it was business as usual for the Santa Cruz Police Department, whose officers spent the evening issuing citations and targeting homeless people sleeping downtown.

SCPD officer Nicholas Kramer issues a camping citation to a man sleeping along Walnut Avenue at 6:45am on March 9, following the city council's vote to re-affirm the camping ban about eight hours earlier

A large group of community members spoke to the city council in favor of amending the camping ban (section 6.36.010 of the municipal code). The meeting was adjourned immediately after the conclusion of the camping ban vote, at about 10:30pm.

At about 11:45pm, SCPD officer Dominique Hohmann and another officer with the department cleared the downtown post office of the homeless people who were sleeping there, citing two individuals. One of the individuals was told by police she was being cited for trespassing. At no time did either of the two officers offer the people they cited at the post office any information on where to find an emergency shelter or how to receive social services.

The Santa Cruz Post Office at 11:45pm

SCPD officer Dominique Hohmann wakes a woman sleeping at the post office and cites her for trespassing

At about 12:15am, one of the same officers who was citing people at the post office was at the Boys & Girls Club, citing two individuals for sleeping near the club's front entrance. The officer informed the men they had a certain number of minutes to gather their belongings and leave the area.

The Boys & Girls Club of Santa Cruz at 12:15am

Shortly after 3am, SCPD Lieutenant Bill Azua and officer David Gunter arrived at Santa Cruz City Hall after they were called by a First Alarm security guard to eject a single woman who was sleeping under the building's eaves on the brick walkway that leads up to the city's main offices. The security guard had begun to clear the walkway of three other sleepers seeking shelter from the rain, but was unsuccessful in his attempts to get the woman to leave. She did leave, however, after Azua spoke with her.

At no time did the Lieutenant ever offer any of the people he moved along at City Hall information on how to receive social services or any shelter services. The woman had been asleep using a single blanket.

A Freedom Sleeper creates a lean-to next to a van in front of City Hall at 1am

SCPD Lt. Bill Azua moves-along a woman sleeping under a blanket at City Hall at 3am

A person displaced from the 3am City Hall move-along sleeps at Prophet Elias Church

A Freedom Sleeper's tent is illuminated by a car's brake lights at 5am

At 6:45 am, SCPD officer Nicholas Kramer cited multiple homeless people who were sleeping along the edge of the Cedar parking garage.

One man sleeping next to the sidewalk on the Walnut Avenue side of the garage was issued a camping citation. He was asleep when officer Kramer approached him. The space he occupied was small, and the only equipment the man was using was a thin sleeping pad and a sleeping bag.

At no time did officer Kramer offer the man cited near Walnut Avenue any information on how to receive shelter services or any other social services.

Sleeping in the Cedar garage at 4:30am

SCPD arrives at 6:40am

SCPD officer Nicholas Kramer issues a camping citation at 6:45am

The homeless woman who was displaced by police at City Hall eventually joined the Freedom Sleepers, who were participating in their 35th community sleepout a few feet away.

Since July 4, the Freedom Sleepers have been sleeping at City Hall one night a week to protest local laws that criminalize homelessness.

Before she was moved by police, the woman was sleeping under the eaves of City Hall, a location that was dry and sheltered from the wind and rain. When sleeping with the Freedom Sleepers on the open sidewalk, she was directly exposed to the elements, where she was rained on for two to three hours.

The Freedom Sleepers choose to sleep on the sidewalk in front of City Hall, because it is a location which leaves them largely safe from the police. During rain storms, however, some Freedom Sleepers without tents migrate to the dry areas of City Hall, which is closed to the public at night. Sleeping there places them at a higher risk of interacting with police.

One of the homeless men moved along from City Hall at 3am by First Alarm and the Santa Cruz police eventually made his way about a half a block away to the front entrance of the Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church, where he slept until daybreak.

There was some irony in this, considering a member of the church's parish council spoke before the city council only five hours earlier in favor of maintaining the camping ban as it is.

Sophie Polychronakis, the vice-president of the parish council, told city council members the proposed changes to the camping ordinance wouldn't affect the church directly because they are a "private entity" and they can call police to have people removed from their property, which is marked with several no trespassing signs.

Changing the ordinance, Polychronakis stated to the city council, "may even create even bigger problems."

It is unclear if the parish council of Prophet Elias knows how many people are pushed towards their property by the move-along laws the church supports.

Freedom Sleepers in front of City Hall during the 34th community sleepout on March 1-2

Freedom Sleepers in front of City Hall during the 34th community sleepout

Freedom Sleepers food and cleaning supplies

Picketing in Support of the Driscoll's Berries Boycott at Santa Cruz Whole Foods

Community members in support of the farmworkers who grow Driscoll's strawberries organized an informational picket outside of Whole Food Markets in Santa Cruz on February 26. Demonstrators are calling for the boycott of Driscoll's Berries and Sakuma Bros. Berries, as well as Häagen-Dazs brand ice cream.

The boycott of Driscoll's has been initiated in response to the poor treatment of the farmworkers who grow the berries in San Quintín, Mexico, as well as at Sakuma Bros. Berry Farm in Burlington, Washington.

Michael Gasser, a Santa Cruz based organizer in support of the boycott, has said that the primary demand is for Driscoll's to negotiate a fair contract with the workers' unions, which so far the Watsonville based company has been unwilling to do.

Workers in both San Quintín and Washington are calling for an increase in workers wages and benefits, in addition to other demands. In Washington, workers are demanding that no children or youth be allowed in the fields who are younger than 17 years old. In San Quintín, workers are calling for an end to sexual harassment in the fields.

In March and April, the workers' unions are organizing a tour of the west coast to raise more information about the boycott, and to build solidarity wth other food justice movements.

"Don't Buy Driscoll's"

Berries, including Driscoll's, are prominently displayed at the Whole Foods

Monday, February 29, 2016

Individuals Displaced in Downtown Homeless Sweeps Join Freedom Sleepers Protest

On February 23, the Freedom Sleepers held their 33rd community sleepout at Santa Cruz City Hall. Attendance at the sleepout increased shortly after 3:30 am, following the police sweeps and move-alongs of homeless individuals sleeping at the Main Branch of the Santa Cruz Library and at the Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church, which are located across the street from city hall. At least one individual sleeping outside of the library was issued a citation by police. Those joining the Freedom Sleepers who were displaced by the sweeps were able to sleep until the morning without further intervention from the authorities.

Santa Cruz police move-along sleepers at the Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church

The front steps of the Prophet Elias Church remained clear of sleepers for the rest of the evening, but the number of sleepers surrounding the library increased following the police sweeps.

As soon as the police concluded the sweeps, one person who officers had moved along from the church simply crossed the street and made her way directly over to the library, where she went back to sleep on the ground using only a single blanket and what appeared to be a jacket as her pillow.

Many homeless individuals who own very few possessions have participated in the Freedom Sleepers protests by sleeping on the sidewalk using only cardboard and a single blanket.

Since July 4, the Freedom Sleepers, some of whom are homeless and some who are not, have been sleeping one night a week at city hall to protest local laws that criminalize homelessness, such as Santa Cruz's camping ban, the sit-lie law, and the city parks stay away orders.

Police haven't targeted the Freedom Sleepers, who sleep on the sidewalk in front of city hall, for several months now, and the February 23 sleepout was the first in some time to not have a squad of First Alarm security guards employed by the city watching over them and the protest.

Many of the sleepers consider the political protest a "safe sleep" zone, considering the fact that police have been reluctant to cite or arrest individuals sleeping on the sidewalk.

The decision to sleep on the sidewalk was strategic: the city's sit-lie law does not apply to the area surrounding city hall, and the only law police could realistically use to move-along the sleepers would be the camping ban. Obstructing the sidewalk is also a possibility, but more of a long shot considering the small "footprint" many of the sleepers leave.

The city and the police had been going through great lengths to prevent people from sleeping on City Hall property during the protests. Following the first sleepout in July, police conducted raids on every one of the sleepouts for months, citing many for trespassing, and even arresting some.

Many of the Freedom Sleepers had originally been sleeping in city hall's courtyard area, which is closed to the public at night. During the Fall, city landscapers tore up city hall's lawns and placed "Area Closed" signs around the courtyard area area. Piles of dirt remain on the lawn and the city stopped working on the area in 2015.

The next Freedom Sleepers community sleepout is planned for Tuesday, March 1. 

3:30 am police sweep at Santa Cruz Library on February 24

Police issue a sleeper a citation

This person sleeping in front of the library was moved-along by police

Church Street

Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church

The church is marked "no trespassing"

The front of the church remained clear of sleepers for the rest of the night

Sleepers who returned to (or did not leave) the library after the police sweep

Freedom Sleepers sleepout on February 23-24

Freedom Sleepers

Two of those displaced by the police sweeps earlier that evening sleep with the Freedom Sleepers

Freedom Sleepers

Freedom Sleepers statement about Take Back Santa Cruz: "Take Back Santa Cruz are Abusive Fascists"