Since July 4, community members, many of them calling themselves "Freedom Sleepers," have been organizing the sleepouts one night a week at City Hall to protest laws that criminalize homelessness and the simple act of sleeping.
Initially they attempted to sleep on the lawn in the courtyard area of city hall, which is also a no trespassing zone at night. In response, police conducted raids at nearly every one of their sleepouts. After many were cited and or arrested in the courtyard, the sleepers moved the location of their sleep-protest to the sidewalk in front of city hall. Eventually the police raids subsided.
To keep the courtyard free of sleepers, the city has instead chosen to hire all night security patrols, who often stand watch over the sleepers for hours at a time. Staying up all night has weighed heavy on some of the guards, who are employed by First Alarm Security Services. Several guards have been caught sleeping in their cars, which is a violation of the camping ban, the very same law the sleepers are directly protesting themselves through civil disobedience. Some of the guards have expressed frustration with the protesters, a homeless woman was roughed up while they were arresting her in the courtyard.
According to reports from the Freedom Sleepers, there were transgressions from the guards at the last sleepout as well.
Toby Nixon, of the Homeless Advocacy & Action Coalition, said that at about 4 am on January 6, a First Alarm security guard began to shine a bright light on the activists' tent and attempted to initiate a "conversation" with the individuals inside it. After exiting the tent, Nixon says he insisted the security guard stop harassing them as they attempted to sleep. He claims the guard responded that he was working there and that it was his right to do whatever he wished.
According to Nixon the First Alarm guard left after some coaxing, and the sleepers inside made it through another night at Santa Cruz City Hall.
|Two sleepers under the eaves of city hall during the January 5 protest|