Sleep-In Protest in Salt Lake City

1

May 11, 2010 by tristan savage

For those of you who didn’t see this and are interested in the goings-on in the Salt Lake area, check out the action people took last week to challenge the patently unjust “no camping” ordinance in the city.  I was harassed by SLC police myself a few years ago because I had a blanket over me while hanging out in the middle of the afternoon in that same park in February.  When the police surrounded me and ordered me to emerge from the blanket, and they saw I was white and young and apparently middle-class, they apologized and moved on.  It was a pretty eye-opening moment for me.  There used to be a Supreme Court precedent in the United States that you couldn’t criminalize people based on “status”, only on “behavior”, but pretty much every city in the country has ignored that precedent as they actually make it illegal to not own a home.

Sleep-in protests Salt Lake City’s treatment of homeless

By James Thalman, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Rachel Wellner had a can of tuna with a little civil disobedience for lunch Thursday.

As she tilted the container to spoon up the slushy remnants of her meal, she got to the meat of why she and a dozen or so other area homeless folks decided to have lunch and then take an illegal nap on the lawn in front of the Salt Lake City-County Building.

“Lying down on a blanket in a park or any public place is illegal in Salt Lake City, which means if you’re homeless and the only bed you have is the ground, you are breaking the law,” Wellner said, adding that she has been sleeping outside almost every night since she got to Salt Lake City from Wisconsin this past December.

“They really want to keep homeless people out of public view, and the police will roust you or ticket you for trespassing or loitering even if you are on private land and have permission to be there,” Wellner said. “It’s just a way of keeping the homeless out of sight and moving on.”

Salt Lake Mayor Ralph Becker’s office said the protesters are overstating the ban and there is no prohibition against sleeping in parks during open hours.

Advocates say there is little basis other than fear for warning or ticketing the homeless. They said again Thursday that it and the proposed aggressive panhandling ban amount to the city continuing to criminalize people for being poor.

“Absolutely,” said Ricky Haven, who attended the protest and said he was ticketed at 5 a.m. Monday for sleeping on the porch of the Crossroads Urban Center. The center doesn’t provide shelter and bans loitering and trespassing, but staff members don’t mind Haven sleeping outside nearby.

“Neighbors called the police because they’re sure we were causing trouble when in fact we actually keep an eye on the place. It’s where we go for food and to get leads on jobs or other help programs,” Haven said. He’s been homeless off and on for some 30 years, he said.

Haven attended the protest to voice his wish that people not in his situation would stop automatically thinking “that being homeless means you’re an alcoholic or a druggie or societal riffraff.”

Haven and others at the demonstration said people need to also understand that most truly homeless people don’t panhandle, they tend to stay out of others’ way and are really just doing their best to get by while getting through some kind of personal or financial crisis.

“There are career homeless people, and there are some who cause trouble,” Haven said. “But seeing two or three folks gathered in one place or seeing somebody with a big backpack taking a nap in a nearby park shouldn’t make people think, ‘There goes the neighborhood.’ ”

The group said they are also feeling indirectly targeted by a proposed city ordinance to outlaw “aggressive begging” even though studies by the state and reports by area nonprofit advocacy groups say the vast majority of people asking for money aren’t homeless, they’re just claiming to be. The ordinance would forbid panhandling on public transportation or within 20 feet of an ATM, church or sidewalk cafe. It also says panhandlers can’t block someone’s way or threaten them or impersonate a homeless veteran when asking for money.

The no-camping ordinance 11.12.080: Camping and Sleeping on Public Grounds, technically outlaws the afternoon snooze under a tree, although determining if someone is camping or just taking a break is up to the discretion of police.

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One thought on “Sleep-In Protest in Salt Lake City

  1. tristan call says:

    Check out the awesome result of this sleep-in: the city has agreed to stop enforcing the “no camping” law while they review it: http://www.sltrib.com/ci_15040351?IADID

    This for sure is not victory yet, but it’s a step in the right direction. Let’s make sure they never enforce the criminalization of homelessness again!

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