By Bryan Navarro
ASHLAND, Ore. — Dozens in Ashland are deliberately breaking the law, camping out in protest of city ordinances they say target homeless. Some in Ashland say the homeless don’t have a safe place to go; others simply say they cannot stay in the downtown plaza.
A few dozen protestors came to Lithia plaza Tuesday night, pitching tents and unrolling sleeping bags. They say, rather than chanting and marching, they’re holding a quiet demonstration, but one they hope speaks volumes.
They call the movement “legalize sleep”. It’s a protest against Ashland’s ban on overnight camping within city limits. The advocates here are deliberately breaking that law; they say the law is discrimination based on appearances and is a crime of status aimed at the poor and homeless.
“We’re trying to bring light of that because a lot of people can’t see these people. They’re trying to hide, they don’t like to talk about their homelessness or even admit it to themselves,” says Homeless Advocate Keith Haxton.
The overnight campers are also acting out against the proposed “exclusion zone.” if a person commits three strikes, they’ll be banned from the downtown area. Advocates say rather than laws and police cracking down with enforcement, they hope to see more services offered for homeless and their issues.
“Police are giving citations aggressively towards homeless people, in order to exclude them from the community and in essence, socially cleanse the city,” says organizer Eric Navickas.
Newswatch12 spoke with Ashland Police over the phone this evening. The officer said once the sergeant goes on shift, which is about this time, he’ll be making a decision about how to move forward. They say if the protesters follow through on their demonstration and do go to sleep, they may come through this camp and enforce the city code.
This protest is meant to incite action one week from Tuesday night, at the Ashland City Council meeting. Then, the council is expected to bring up the issues on the camping ban and the exclusion zone. They’ll be taking comments from both sides of the issue.