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This press release from Occupy Santa Ana came to the Orange Juice Blog blogcave last night. I’ve rewritten it very slightly (because that’s what I do) and am glad to reprint it here.
Tonight is Monday, April 16, 2012. This evening will mark the final night of Occupy Santa Ana’s Action meant to bring awareness to Orange County’s ongoing crisis regarding inadequate emergency services for the local homeless population.
The action began on March 30, when Occupy Santa Ana held a three week “Shelter Tel-athon” every Friday at the Santa Ana Civic Center from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm. Occupy Santa Ana called emergency shelters throughout the County asking if there were any emergency beds available for the Civic Center homeless. No beds were found.
On April 10th, the County’s winter shelter called the “Armory” closed and 250 more homeless were let back out onto the streets. Occupy Santa Ana responded by creating a makeshift outdoor shelter on the Cities Civic Center Plaza lawn which was from that day forward dubbed “Necessity Village.” Occupy Santa Ana was making us of the “Necessity Clause,” which, as described in the dissenting opinion in Jones v. Los Angeles, states that when no shelter beds are available the City cannot ticket the homeless for sleeping outdoors on public property.
The biggest benefit derived from the Armory, Orange County’s only emergency homeless shelter, is that the homeless have the ability to sleep safely for eight hours without worrying about getting their belonging stolen or being physically assaulted. With emergency shelter the homeless can sleep better knowing that their belongings are not at risk and do not have to sleep with “one eye open,” because they know someone is watching out for them.
From April 10th through April 17th, Occupy Santa Ana has volunteered to be those eyes and ears for the homeless population at the Civic Center site. By tomorrow morning, its members will have kept a 7 night vigil while the homeless slept. On the first night, one homeless man was able to find safe refuge in “Necessity Village”; by day six, twenty-five others had joined him.
At this point in the action there is no known evidence of any police resistance or ticketing of the homeless, to the surprise of some Occupiers, who had expected the actions to be contested by SAPD.
This week’s long action is not the end of Occupy Santa Ana’s continuing effort to raise the awareness and support within the City of Santa Ana, Orange County, and the community at large regarding this fundamental human rights issue to sleep safely without fearing the harsh repercussions of unreasonable monetary fines, or future incarceration.
This has truly been a heroic effort by Occupy Santa Ana — although part of that heroism has simply been the willingness of its members to sleep outside in rain, wind, and storms, voluntarily along with a homeless population that has no choice in the matter. It has worked well, and it’s gratifying and notable (and a credit to Santa Ana’s city government and police) that no one has gotten arrested. The “necessity defense” should obviously apply when no beds are available for the county’s homeless — which means pretty much always.
Santa Ana and Orange County as a whole — let’s not forget how the county tries to shunts it homeless problem onto Santa Ana without proper compensation to the city and its residents — now face some choices. The publicity from this effort will start to die down after the action ends tomorrow. How will the city and county react?
Here’s what they should do:
- Stop giving out $500 tickets to the homeless for sleeping in public when they have no choice.
- If the Homeless Outreach Court has something good to offer the homeless, bring that information to the homeless, or induce rather than coercing them to come to court, rather than facing the fear and humiliation of standing in front of a judge to justify their need to sleep despite not having a bed.
- Make restroom facilities available to the homeless — all-night, every night.
- Reopen the Armory.
- Open the closed Bus Depot to the homeless.
- Ensure that some sort of shelter is available to all, including men without children.
Some of this will cost money — and some of it will save money — and some of this will save lives. As Occupy Santa Ana has shown, to some extent an emergency influx of the homeless can be handled with some tarps, some mats, and a nearby toilet. If anyone wants to stand up and argue that society is better off if these people die of exposure and disease, the floor is yours, but don’t expect to make the argument without some push-back.
So: major credit goes to Occupy Santa Ana for this action and to the church groups (and perhaps others of which I’m unaware) who lovingly donated material to the homeless. And credit as well goes to the City of Santa Ana — credit that we in Occupy hope that they will continue to earn by dealing humanely with the less fortunate among us. And for those who wonder what Occupy has accomplished — come by the Walk of Honor this evening and see.