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Homeless, others protest city's 'no camping' ordinance

Group says law criminalizes homeless people

Protesters march Saturday night on Mill Avenue in opposition to Tempe´s Urban Camping Ordinance.
Media Credit: Jesse Christopherson
Protesters march Saturday night on Mill Avenue in opposition to Tempe´s Urban Camping Ordinance.

More than 50 protesters chanted, "Neil is a creep! Let people sleep!" and other slogans as they paraded up and down Mill Avenue on Saturday night to oppose Tempe's Urban Camping Ordinance.

The protest was organized by the Free to Camp Coalition in reaction to the ordinance, enacted in 1997, that prohibits erecting shelters, laying down bedding for the purpose of sleeping, storing belongings, starting a fire, cooking or living in a vehicle in Tempe's public places. The protesters referred to Tempe Mayor Neil Giuliano as well in one of their chants.

ASU plant biology postgraduate Elizabeth Venable, who coordinated the protest, said she wanted to "deal explicitly" with the criminalization of homelessness.

"People aren't addressing the political issues and the ways the state punishes [the homeless] or the ways people become homeless," she said. She added that the ordinance banned activities "normal people" can do without thinking that they're "immoral" or illegal.

"But sitting doesn't hurt anyone and sleeping doesn't hurt anyone, and they're the basic things that people need to do to stay alive," Venable said. "The message that [the homeless] are getting is that homeless people shouldn't be able to stay alive. Like they're not worthy of living."

Protester and ASU journalism freshman Kate Elliott said it's "ludicrous" that homeless people can't sleep on the street when there's no homeless shelter in Tempe.

About 40 protesters and several members of Phoenix Copwatch met at the southeast corner of Mill Avenue and University Drive, then walked the length of the east side of Mill Avenue, carrying placards and waving signs.

The group continued to Sixth Street, where protesters spread out blankets in front of Islands restaurant in symbolic protest of the "laying down bedding" clause in the ordinance.

Tempe police officers, who generally stay at least several meters from the protesters, told them through a loudspeaker to move because the property owners had complained.

The protesters continued on to the entrance of retail clothing store Abercrombie & Fitch, where they sat and chanted, "We don't want a yuppie nation!" and "Shelters, not jails!"

ASU nursing junior Anna Mitchell, who was working at Abercrombie & Fitch Saturday night, said she sympathized with the protesters' message.

"I think [the Urban Camping Ordinance] isn't really fair to the homeless people because they don't have any other option," she said.

Protester Kevin Lyons, 25, said he's lived on the streets of Tempe for the past 11 months.

"This ain't no free country. It's a free country for people with money," he said, adding that he "has no life" as a result of the ordinance.

"I can't sleep at night," he said.

By the end of the protest, several people had joined the protesters spontaneously.

Daniel Worster, 19, of Tempe and his fiancée Dany Varela, 21, were on Mill Avenue when they saw the protesters and decided to join them and help in gathering signatures for a petition opposing the ordinance.

"This seemed more important than doing anything recreational," said Worster, who said he has been homeless in the past. "I think it's wrong to take away anyone's freedom because it's basically a form of discrimination."

Varela said it's tough for homeless people in Tempe because there isn't a shelter nearby and shelters in neighboring cities are often full.

Reach the reporter at jesse.christopherson@asu.edu.

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I wanted to say that I don't necessarily... (11/17/03)
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