Thursday, December 15, 2016

Freedom Sleepers Continue to Face Harsh Weather

Rain showers persisted throughout the evening of the 75th Freedom Sleepers community sleepout, which was organized at Santa Cruz City Hall on December 13-14. In response to the weather, individuals slept at a variety of different locations around city hall to maintain their protest against local laws that criminalize homelessness. At the previous sleepout, held on the evening of December 6-7, the sleep protesters faced the coldest and harshest weather of the season thus far, with temperatures lowering into the mid-30s.

Freedom Sleepers at city hall during the 75th Community Sleepout on December 13-14

The Freedom Sleepers are a coalition of unhoused and housed activists who have been sleeping weekly at Santa Cruz City Hall since July 4, 2015. They use sleep as an act of civil disobedience, and the primary demand of their protest is for the city to repeal its camping ban ordinance, which prohibits sleeping anywhere in public between the hours of 11 pm and 8:30 am.

Additionally, sleeping anywhere on the grounds of Santa Cruz City Hall at night is against the law. The entire property is closed to the public between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am, and is subject to the parks trespass law.

The Freedom Sleepers generally sleep on the sidewalk in front of city hall, where they receive less attention from police. The Santa Cruz Police Department has raided the community sleepouts many times. On November 23, police cleared a group of about two dozen sleepers who were sheltering themselves from rainy weather under the eaves of city hall. Some were participating in the protest and some not.

Attendance at the sleepouts has varied during the wet weather and recent dip in temperatures. Even though the temperature was in the 30s at the sleepout held on the evening of November 29-30, several dozen people made it through the night. In contrast, the last two sleepouts have seen a reduction in participation.

Community Sleepout #73, November 29-30

At Community Sleepout #73, a Freedom Sleeper wrapped up in bedding displays a sign that reads, "We Are Human and Need Sleep."

Community Sleepout #73

Several sleepers who faced temperatures in the mid-30s at the 74th Community Sleepout on December 6-7 possessed minimal bedding.

Individuals display a Freedom Sleepers sign at the 75th Community Sleepout

Wet weather at city hall during the 75th Community Sleepout