Homeless camp out at Santa Cruz courthouse

Homeless camp out at Santa Cruz courthouse

July 29, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
In Santa Cruz, there is a jurisdictional dispute over an ordinance that bans sleeping in public, but many are wondering who is enforcing it, since the homeless have been camping out for weeks.

There are a lot of homeless people camped out in front of the county's courthouse steps. They are supposed to first get a warning, then a citation, but when ABC7's cameras were there, they didn't see anyone out enforcing the ban Thursday night.

"We started July 4th and will continue to do it until we get justice," said protest organizer Ed Frey.

The homeless are protesting Santa Cruz's camping ban, which stops anyone from sleeping outside overnight. However, the protest is now moving into week four and the homeless present outside the courthouse 24/7.

"We get yelled at. When we come in, they make remarks to us. We had a guy wielding a machete the other day," said court supervisor Linda Sepulveda.

County workers have had enough of the close quarters, where they say, drug deals are also going down regularly.

"We're becoming a magnet for alcoholics, the criminal element; this is not our doing and not our fault," said Christopher Doyon who is homeless.

Those who work here don't care, they just want it to stop and they're letting the homeless know it.

Courthouse employee Pat Hammermaster said to a homeless man, "We think it's a slap in the face, this is where we have justice and we have to watch this happening out front where nobody does anything about it. I come to work every morning and I'm sick of it."

County workers have filed complaints with both the police and Sheriff's department. They say they haven't gotten much of a response.

"It's kind of a jurisdictional battle right now, between the Sheriff's department and the police department as to who is going to enforce the ordinance," said Hammermaster.

The county admits, there was some confusion over enforcement. The ordinance is a Santa Cruz city law, but the courthouse is on county property.

"You have to all talk it through and look at ordinances and what does the city ordinance say about who is authorized to do it," said Santa Cruz County spokesperson Dinah Phillips.

The county has now decided it will start enforcing the ban. Santa Cruz Mayor Mike Rotkins is calling the move long overdue.

"Now it's gotten completely out of hand and it's mushroomed in size and a lot of illegal behavior is going on," said Rotkins.

Camp organizers say that's not true. They vow to fight any citations or arrests that come their way.

"If you don't have a house, you still have to sleep, so why not somewhere? well, this is a good place?" said Frey.

The outside of the courthouse really transformed late Thursday night. There's a Porta Potty, a wash area, and a lot of sleeping bags, so people say they will continue to camp out until the ordinance changes.


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