Saturday, July 16, 2016

Summer for the Freedom Sleepers

The Freedom Sleepers have defied the odds by reaching summer time and continuing to organize sleepouts at Santa Cruz City Hall. Since July 4 of 2015 they have been sleeping at city hall once a week to protest local laws that criminalize homelessness. The 50th community sleepout on June 21 saw a large increase in participation, with over 30 people sleeping in front of city hall. As warm and comfortable as the day time hours have been, however, several participants at the 51st community sleepout held on June 28 commented that the late night hours in downtown Santa Cruz were cold and difficult to naviagte without a home. The next event planned by the Freedom Sleepers is their one-year anniversary sleepout, which will be held on July 5. Beyond that, some recent comments made by organizers suggest the weekly sleepouts will be continuing for some time to come.

A Freedom Sleeper constructed a small shelter out of cardboard to sleep in at the 51st community sleepout held on June 28

Some of the participants at the sleepouts are housed and some are unhoused. At the sleepout on June 28, the weather was cold enough that one individual possessing a small blanket elected to cover himself with it for warmth, as opposed to using it as sleeping pad between his body and the concrete. To serve the function of a sleeping pad, the man used a few thin plastic shopping bags instead.

Another man sleeping on the sidewalk created a small, house-like shelter out of cardboard to sleep in, which he plastered with protest signs on its exterior.

Santa Cruz Food Not Bombs is continuing efforts to expand its free market, which has been evident at recent sleepouts. A rack full of free clothing was placed next to the food station at the sleepout on June 28, and individuals could be seen perusing the selection periodically through the middle of the night.

The Freedom Sleepers faced an ugly act of hate at the most recent sleepout. At about 12:30 am, two individuals drove by in a car and attempted to douse some of the people sleeping out in in the open on the sidewalk with some sort of liquid from their passenger side window. Acts of violence and aggression towards homeless people have been commonplace in Santa Cruz for decades, but this particular incident may have been motivated by the high profile nature of the Freedom Sleepers protests.

Israel Dawson's documentary film "Freedom Sleepers" debuted in early June to a large audience at the UCSC Soc Doc program thesis screening. Additionally, "Freedom Sleepers" won the Spirit of Action prize for short films shown at the Santa Cruz Film Festival.

The Freedom Sleepers say they will be announcing a list of demands at the one-year anniversary sleepout. The event will also feature a speak out and a memorial for houseless individuals who died this year.

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