The Following Statement was submitted to the Santa Cruz City Council on behalf of the ACLU of Northern California Santa Cruz County Chapter:
August 25, 2015
Honorable Don Lane, Mayor
Honorable Cynthia Mathews, Vice Mayor
Honorable David Terrazas
Honorable Cynthia Chase
Honorable Pamela Comstock
Honorable Micah Posner
Honorable Richelle Noroyan
Re: Statement of Support for the Freedom Sleepers
The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, Santa Cruz County Chapter, respectfully submits this Statement of Support for the Freedom Sleepers, who are working to directly address the City’s criminalization of homelessness through its anti-camping, “sit-lie,” and similar laws, and the waste of public resources that are employed to enforce these laws. The laws that effectively criminalize the status of being homeless raise significant civil liberties questions. Given the enormous gap between the number of homeless individuals and the number of available shelter beds in Santa Cruz, we believe that laws that prohibit and criminalize lying, sitting, and sleeping in public are unconstitutional on their face. Moreover, we believe that economically disadvantaged citizens are denied civil liberties disproportionately to more financially fortunate individuals and such laws pose a grave danger of being selectively enforced against an entire class of people.
We are mindful of the recent Statement of Interest submitted by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) in the U. S. District Court case of Janet F. Hall, et. al v. City of Boise, et. al (Civil Action No. 1:09-cv-540-REB) and believe that this statement reflects a shift in federal policy away from criminalizing homelessness. Writing for the DOJ, Civil Rights Division Attorney Sharon Brett notes in relevant part “[W] hen adequate shelter space exists, individuals have a choice about whether or not to sleep in public. However, when adequate shelter space does not exist, there is no meaningful distinction between the status of being homeless and the conduct of sleeping in public. Sleeping is a life-sustaining activity—i.e., it must occur at some time in some place. If a person literally has nowhere else to go, then enforcement of the anti-camping ordinance against that person criminalizes her for being homeless. “
The Statement concludes, “pursuing charges against individuals for sleeping in public imposes further burdens on scarce public defender, judicial, and carceral resources. Thus, criminalizing homelessness is both unconstitutional and misguided public policy, leading to worse outcomes for people who are homeless and for their communities. If the Court finds that it is impossible for homeless individuals to secure shelter space on some nights because no beds are available, no shelter meets their disability needs or they have exceeded the maximum stay limitations, then the Court should also find that enforcement of the ordinances under those circumstances criminalizes the status of being homeless and violates the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution” We agree.
In our view, the situation in Santa Cruz is legally indistinguishable from the situation in Boise. We believe that the Freedom Sleepers are working effectively to bring attention to these important issues and to protect significant constitutional rights. Accordingly, the Board of Directors of the Santa Cruz County Chapter of the ACLU of Northern California commends this Statement of Support for your consideration.
Very Truly Yours,
Chair, Board of Directors
ACLU of Northern California
Santa Cruz County Chapter
HOMELESS DHARMA NETWORK
The Homeless Dharma Network (HDN), from the beginning, also endorses Freedom Sleepers. In addition to attending Freedom Sleeper Campouts/Sleep-ins, as the Founder I have also informed other Buddhist orgs and Centers of the Freedom Sleepers efforts to end the criminalization of the homeless. We have also recently published an article in a Buddhist e-journal announcing and advocating for Freedom Sleepers, the end to the Sleeping Ban, Stay Away Orders and other inhumane City Ordinances. We pray each night that the Sleeping Ban is ABOLISHED!
BY STEVE CONOVER