SACRAMENTO – Homeless advocates have informed the City of Sacramento they will begin an occupation of City Hall grounds – and risk arrest if necessary – starting Tuesday (Dec. 8) evening until the City Council repeals an unlawful camping ordinance.
They will begin preparations for the occupation at 5 p.m. Tuesday in front of City Hall.
The Community Dinner Project (CDP), a group of concerned citizens who risk arrest every week by feeding 75-150 hungry people – also illegal under city ordinance that requires a $300 permit to feed the hungry – claim the city’s camping ordinance has been declared unconstitutional by the federal Department of Justice (DOJ).
On August 6, 2015, the DOJ issued a statement of interest in a federal case in Boise, in which seven people are suing the city over their conviction for the “crime” of camping. The DOJ stated that bans on sleeping in public are unconstitutional.
“Sleeping is a life-sustaining activity- i.e., it must occur at some time in some place,” argued the DOJ in the still pending case. “If a person literally has nowhere to go, then enforcement of the anti-camping ordinance against that person criminalizes her for being homeless.” Such laws, the DOJ argues, violate 8th Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment, and thus, unconstitutional.
In addition, a federal task force on homelessness concluded that homeless sweeps are not the solution. “We strongly advise against communities dispersing people experiencing unsheltered homelessness on their own or in camps,” said Matthew Doherty, the task force executive director. “It disrupts the ability to engage and develop trusting relationships to help them on paths to permanent housing.” (LA Times, Sept. 6, 2015.)
“After a year of talking to the city about this ordinance, the city still shows no sign of listening to us about the unconstitutionality of the ordinance,” said community organizers, adding “Let’s end this assault on our fellow human beings; rather than punish those less fortunate, let us be a model city and demonstrate caring and compassion, and social justice for all and find more sustainable solutions for homeless people.”
In late November, a group called “First They Came for the Homeless,” occupied Berkeley City Hall for about 18 days. Last week police arrested three of the protesters and confiscated their belongings, including tents. Some protesters have returned to city hall and are staying there without tents.