EUGENE, Ore. (KMTR) -- A Eugene homeless advocacy group protesting for the right to sleep in public places says it has won a big Constitutional victory against Lane County and the Federal Government and it plans to continue visible protests in Eugene.
Since Monday, the protest group named “Safe Legally Entitled Emergency Places to Sleep,” or SLEEPS has been protesting with tents in the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza at the Lane County Public Service Building in downtown Eugene.
The group is protesting the city of Eugene's "no camping" ordinance, which prohibits camping in public places.
On Tuesday, Lane County Administrator Liane Richardson officially closed the plaza, citing the closure was in the interest of public health, safety and the business of employees in the Lane County Public Service Building.
Despite the order, “SLEEPS” was not forced out by Eugene Police. The group had been working with EPD on a solution on a new public location for its protest.
On Wednesday, December 12th, 2012, SLEEPS announced what it calls “Constitutional victory” against Lane County. Organizers with SLEEPS say under the First Amendment, the county cannot enforce a curfew in the plaza and it also cannot deny the group's tents as a “symbol of protest.”
SLEEPS says under the Eighth Amendment, public safety officers cannot “attempt to wake” or “disturb” a homeless person sleeping in a public place. According to the group, this was validated by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in a case titled “Jones vs. the city of Los Angeles.” In his ruling, Judge Kim Wardlaw stated that sleeping is “unavoidable consequence of being human and unhoused,” that and sleepers can no longer be disturbed during the night.
"You cannot criminalize the necessary, unavoidable consequences of being human and unhoused. Eugene has not been supporting the 8th amendment,” said Jean Stacey, one of the organizers working with SLEEPS, who was quoting Judge Wardlow's ruling.
SLEEPS ended up moving out of the plaza around 2 p.m. on Wednesday on its own accord under no police presence.
The group is now setting up camp at the old Eugene City Hall's parking lot on 8th Avenue and High Street. The group says the parking lot has gone almost unused since City Hall closed.
SLEEPS is still pushing for Eugene city council to overturn its "no camping” in public places ordinance. If police attempt to enforce the ordinance, the group says it will continue to practice civil disobedience and may go after legal action against the city.
Helping house the homeless in temporary structures, Eugene city council did approve the use of a Eugene builder's “Conestoga Huts” at car camping sites throughout the city. The car camping program is run by St. Vincent de Paul. The huts could start going up in the coming weeks. (Read NewsSource 16's story on the project: http://www.kmtr.com/news/local/story/Eugene-builders-hope-locally-created-huts-help/My-OaM38cke9iy_ViVCrZw.cspx.)