BREAKING: Homeless activists arrested during city council meeting

By Brooke Purves

Three homeless advocates were detained at Tuesday’s Sacramento City Council meeting while protesting what they consider to be anti-homelessness regulations.

Detained for disrupting a public meeting, James Lee Clark (who goes by the street name “Faygo”), Alyssa Pena and Claire J. White were also among tens of participants of the earlier Community Dinner to Support the Right to Exist. In feeding nearly 100 homeless individuals through donated and volunteer-prepared foods, the dinner specifically attacked local ordinances requiring permits for food-sharing activities on city property.

Police insisted the dinner, which took place just outside the doors of City Hall, be moved to the sidewalk, just 10 feet away. Activists chanted, “What would Jesus do?” and, “Hands up. Don’t shoot,” as police moved tables and food.

After the dinner, Clark, Pena, White and more than 20 others waited to participate in the public comment portion of the city council meeting, from which the three were removed after vocally demonstrating instead of waiting for their allotted two-minute speaking time. After a warning from Councilwoman Angelique Ashby, White replied, “No, I’m not moving, or sitting, or stopping talking.” White was then escorted from the room by the sergeant-at-arms.

Clark, 34, Pena, 25, and White, 30, were released from county jail on Wednesday, according to online records.

The protests stem from activist perception of Sacramento as a “world class city of cruelty,” according to Clark.

California tops the nation in cities with pending or passed restrictions on activities considered necessary to keeping homeless individuals safe and healthy, according to an October report from the National Coalition for the Homeless. Top of the list: food-sharing.

The report indicates that restrictions on food-sharing activities have increased nationwide by 47 percent since 2010. Under scrutiny in Sacramento as of late are permit requirements for groups handing out free food to low-income individuals on public property, the same permits advocates were protesting Tuesday.

The cost to operate a temporary food facility can range from $67 to hundreds of dollars, depending on the park and size of the group, and can require a multi-page application and food-handling quiz. Additional fees can be assessed for late applications and failure to obtain a permit.

Homeless advocates claim that making food-sharing more difficult is an attempt to keep the problem of chronic homelessness out of sight and out of mind.

But Sacramento County Regional Parks director Jeff Leatherman said such fees are necessary to pay for site preparation, trash removal and cleanup. “It’s just about consistently treating all groups the same,” he added.

On a related note, a Right to Rest bill is in the works for the state Legislature, according to Paula Lomazzi of the Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee.

The bill would protect “people’s ability to rest outdoors,” said Lomazzi. “When they don’t have homes, they have no other options.”

Supporters charge that arresting individuals who are resting in public for loitering and other quality-of-life offenses perpetuates the cycle of poverty, exacerbates chronic homelessness and punishes people for being poor.

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