Sunday, January 3, 2016

Homeless Activists Maintain Protests, Continue to Sleep at Santa Cruz City Hall

Facing temperatures below the freezing mark, a small group of activists stayed the night for their twenty-fifth community sleepout at Santa Cruz City Hall on December 29. The next sleepout is planned for Tuesday, January 5.

A street sweeper buzzes by homeless advocate Toby Nixon as he lays in front of Santa Cruz City Hall at 6 am on December 30 during the twenty-fifth community sleepout

Since July 4, community members in Santa Cruz have been sleeping one night a week at Santa Cruz City Hall to protest laws that criminalize sleeping in public places. Their main focus has been on the repeal of the local sleeping/camping ban, which outlaws sleeping in public (with or without blankets) in the City of Santa Cruz between the hours of 11pm and 8:30am, in addition to prohibiting sleeping in cars.

Individuals are also sleeping at city hall to encourage officials to open public parks to those looking for a safe place to sleep at night. The courtyard area of Santa Cruz City Hall, which is closed to the public between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am, was the primary sleep location of the protests until the city, and the Santa Cruz Police Department, began to take extreme measures to keep the area clear. For several months, police conducted nightly raids at the sleepouts, issuing dozens of citations in total, and even arresting some.

In the past two months the frequency of the police raids has declined, due in part to the city's decision to dramatically increase security patrols at city hall. It was reported in a recent commercial media article that the sleepouts have cost the city over $24,000 in extra expenses due to the protests.

Presently, the majority of protesters choose to sleep on the sidewalk in front of city hall to avoid the wrath of the authorities. Some individuals also take shelter in the landscaping area of the public library, as well as the surrounding properties.

The December 29 sleepout was the first time the sleepers experienced freezing weather during the course of the protests.

Homeless advocate Toby Nixon was one of the few individuals who slept through the night at city hall on December 29. Nixon, who is homeless himself, said he would be facing the same kind of temperatures regardless of whether he was protesting at the sleepouts or not. He lives outside full-time.

Nixon is involved with the Homeless Advocacy & Action Coalition, an organization he describes as working to end the criminalization of homelessness by, "giving a voice to the voiceless," through media and information sharing. He said he has the desire to travel to Washington DC as part of his advocacy for the homeless, but financing his goals so far has been a challenge. As a result, Nixon focuses on issues "regionally." Most recently, he has traveled to other homeless protest actions in Northern California that are similar to the community sleepouts being organized at Santa Cruz City Hall. In 2015, sleepouts and occupations have been held at the civic centers of a variety of other cities in California, including Berkeley and Sacramento. A number of actions to end the criminalization of homelessness have also been held in Eureka.

The group that first initiated the sleepouts in Santa Cruz in July was mostly comprised of homeless advocates who themselves have fixed froms of housing, and warm homes of their own to go to. They served as the principle organizers of the sleepouts, with support from a wide variety of unhoused activists and individuals, and eventually named themselves the "Freedom Sleepers."

By December, most of the original Freedom Sleepers stopped sleeping at city hall. The present organizational duties have now been assumed by a group of individuals who are all homeless themselves. Some had planned to "rename" the protests, but through a consensus process they decided to continue with the Freedom Sleepers name.

Toby Nixon has said that as long as local homeless people from Santa Cruz are still interested in participating in the protests, he will continue to sleep at Santa Cruz City Hall every week.

In front of Santa Cruz City Hall at the 23rd Community Sleepout, held on December 15

Security guards watch over the city hall courtyard at the 24th Community Sleepout

Community Sleepout #24, December 22

Community Sleepout #24

Toby Nixon, of the Homeless Advocacy & Action Coalition, at Community Sleepout #24

Santa Cruz Food Not Bombs shared food during the afternoon at Community Sleepout #24

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