by Steve Pleich
Buoyed by the Statement of Interest submitted by the Department of Justice in the Boise federal camping ban case and by the support of increasing numbers of people experiencing homelessness, the Freedom Sleepers are continuing their highly visible sleepouts at Santa Cruz City Hall.
Three successful actions in July were followed by four more sleepouts on August 2, August 11, August 18 and August 25.
Sleepers have held their ground and kept up the pressure on the City Council to repeal the local camping ban, despite repeated orders to disperse from 10 to 14 police officers stationed at City Hall during the evening protests.
The police have also resorted to the more intimidating tactics of arrests and handcuffs.
The Santa Cruz ban on camping prohibits sleep between the hours of 11 p.m. and 8:30 a.m. anywhere in the city limits. Says Freedom Sleeper and homeless community member Dreamcatcher, “This is our chance to speak directly to our city officials in a way that the homeless are very seldom able to do. We will not waste this opportunity.”
Support for the Freedom Sleepers continues to build, with the latest declaration of support coming from the Santa Cruz County Chapter of the ACLU of Northern California.
Speaking on behalf of the Board, ACLU Chair Peter Gelblum said, “In our view, the situation in Santa Cruz is legally indistinguishable from the situation in Boise. We believe that the Freedom Sleepers are working effectively to bring attention to these important issues and to protect significant constitutional rights.”
Media attention seems to be building as well. Community Television of Santa Cruz County recently aired an hour-long live panel discussion with four of the founding members of the Freedom Sleepers, and Santa Cruz Indy Media photojournalist Alex Darocy has been on scene covering every event.
Santa Cruz activists hope that the Freedom Sleeper actions will inspire homeless activists in other cities to begin Freedom sleepouts of their own at seats of government to demand the repeal of local camping bans and to call for an end to the criminalization of homelessness.
Homeless United for Friendship and Freedom (HUFF) member and Freedom Sleeper Becky Johnson sets the bar high. “We have always needed a national movement to end the criminalization of homelessness, and the Boise statement, together with freedom sleepout actions, may be the catalyst we’ve been waiting for. We really need to seize the time.”
Freedom Sleepers plan to continue their community sleepouts at the Santa Cruz City Hall indefinitely. Updates on actions and events can be found on the group website @freedomsleepers.org.