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Homeless walk for human rights

By Matt Liebowitz, Special to the Daily Planet
Thursday July 04, 2002

Walkers: Sleeping is not a crime 


The upcoming week marks the final leg of the “Right to Sleep” walk, a statewide rally for homeless rights organized by the California Homeless Civil Rights Coalition (CHCROP). 

Seventeen walkers began June 7 in San Diego and will end July 10 on the north steps of the state Capitol building in Sacramento where a rally is scheduled 2 to 5 p.m. A sleep-inn on the lawn might also occur following the rally. 

The impetus for the walk is the criminilization of the right to sleep and antihomeless sleeping bans. 

“Sleeping is a basic necessity of any animal, and to criminalize that is abhorrent,” said Nancy McCradie in People's Park, where the walk made a stop and left again Wednesday afternoon. 

McCradie has been a Santa Barbara activist for 22 years, and is the co-director of Santa Barbara based Homes on Wheels. 

Accompanying the walkers is a white support vehicle dubbed the “white buffalo.” The large white truck has been parked on Dwight Street against People's Park, and is covered in posters advertising the walk and advocating the basic rights that are at the foundation of the walk. 

Michael Diehl works with Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency (BOSS). Diehl explained that police have been using trespassing laws to ticket and arrest the homeless in Berkeley. “We've been successful recently in fighting this, but people are still getting arrested for their basic right to sleep,” Diehl said. 

The fight centers around a law against public lodging which includes RVs. Currently it is not a high priority for Berkeley police, but it is still being used against the homeless. 

“It's unfortunate, folks that are living in their vehicles aren't doing it for their pleasure,” said April Davis, a benefits advocate with the Homeless Action Center in Berkeley. 

“Local municipalities are dusting off old laws, or passing new ones that make the act [of sleeping] that any human being has to do to survive, illegal” said Chance Martin, project coordinator with San Francisco-based Coalition on Homelessness. “The police are selectively applying laws on the homeless people.”  

Martin explained that there is a sleeping ban in San Francisco, but said “if there's a man in business attire sleeping on a checkered cloth in Golden Gate Park it isn't a problem.” He added, “a homeless person doing the same thing is seen as a threat to civility.” 

McCradie and Diehl both feel strong about the need to decriminalize sleeping bans. 

“If you criminalize these actions, where can they go?” McCradie said.  

McCradie is confident that with decriminalized sleeping laws, the city would be much better equipped to help with the homeless problem. “Once people lose the tools for criminalizing, [the city] can go to work to help them” McCradie said. 

The organizers of the Right to Sleep Walk are realistic about the walk’s outcome. 

“They're not going to set off balloons for us on the Capitol lawn,” McCradie said, “but we won't quit even if the walk doesn't bring us glory.” The walk is the start of a civil rights movement, and a way to plant a seed, Mccradie said. 

Despite the low number of participants, the organizers remain hopeful and count on a large amount of local support once they reach Sacramento.  

“This will give people courage, knowing that someone is fighting for their rights,” said Paula Lomazzi, an activist with the Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee.  

“It's that hope and courage that can cut through the despair,” Diehl added. 

Diehl hopes to turn winter shelters into year-round housing for the homeless, and is in favor of setting up legal encampments for those living in RVs. 

“The solutions to homelessness are completely black and white,” McCradie said. “If you want people off the street, you have to put them somewhere they can relate to.” 

She added, “there are a lot of people in this city that are willing to face this challenge.” 

McCradie plans to set up a speaker's bureau in January to inform college students about the issues plaguing the homeless community. 

“It's a revolution through education,” said Lomazzi.