Moratorium on Sleeping Ban Gains Support from ACLU in Santa Cruz

Rough sleepers and homeless activists believe the camping ban is a bad law because it criminalizes public nighttime sleeping, a necessity to survive. Outdoor sleeping is banned everywhere in Santa Cruz. Housing NOW believes that because this law is part of a system used to criminalize homelessness, it is unconstitutional.

by Linda Ellen Lemaster

The Santa Cruz County Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union voted to adopt a Statement of Principle at its most recent board meeting, in support of a proposed time-limited camping ban moratorium in the City of Santa Cruz.

The camping ban moratorium represents a step across the chasm between people experiencing homelessness and the neighbors and governmental systems that rail against their very presence.

“Our ACLU chapter is moving toward a more progressive agenda,” said Steve Pleich, vice chair, who has been advocating for a closer examination of the sleeping/camping ban ordinance, at least since the Occupy Movement began its local growing pains.

Rough sleepers and activists believe the camping ban is a bad law because it criminalizes public nighttime sleeping, a necessity to survive. Outdoor sleeping is banned everywhere in Santa Cruz.

Housing NOW Santa Cruz believes that because such bans are part of a system used to criminalize homelessness, intentional or not, it is unconstitutional, and too easily used to selectively enforce, in the same way a loitering ticket is.

Many local residents claim that without such an ordinance our police would be unable to regulate the growing numbers of travelers and homeless people who are forced to sleep outdoors in the absence of sufficient shelter options.

The ACLU voted for this moratorium after a groundswell of support. Homeless people, several activists from Homeless United for Friendship and Freedom, and former Occupy members spoke during the chapter’s public comment time.

Housing NOW Santa Cruz believes that a time-limited moratorium on the sleeping ban ordinance would put these assumptions to the test.

Because such patterns of enforcement and impacts of criminalization are finally making their way into higher courts in this nation, support from our ACLU for addressing the sleeping and camping ban couldn’t come at a better time.

Other chapters are also examining local problems regarding the criminalization of homelessness, and the regional ACLU conference in Sacramento in April included a workshop on California’s history of criminalizing homelessness.

“Stop The War On The Poor!!! Legalize Sleep!!!” In Santa Cruz, a woman holds up a memorable protest sign:

 

ACLU Santa Cruz Statement of Principle

“The Santa Cruz County Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union supports in principle a limited time moratorium on enforcement of camping ban laws and ordinances within the City and County of Santa Cruz on the grounds that such laws and ordinances selectively criminalize the homeless community.

“While the chapter is mindful that such a moratorium raises practical problems within the community at large, we believe that the benefits of such an approach in terms of the opportunity for civic leaders, policy makers and stakeholders to reassess the efficacy of these laws and ordinances outweighs any temporary adverse impact.”

For further information about the work of the ACLU on this issue, please contact Steve Pleich at spleich@gmail.com.

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