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Advocates stage 'sleep-in' for homeless



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SALT LAKE CITY -- A Salt Lake City ordinance prevents camping and sleeping on public grounds. Thursday, several homeless advocates plan to break the law to send a message.

Just around noon, the group laid down their blankets and took a nap in Washington Square. They're doing it to draw attention to what they say is an unfair law.

"I mean there are people who actually are being punished because there is nowhere for them to sleep," says Bill Tibbitts with the Crossroads Urban Center.

Protesters at the sleep-in say it's unfair for Salt Lake City police officers to ticket homeless people who are sleeping in public parks, especially since they have nowhere else to turn.

Tibbitts calls the ticketing "cruel and unusual punishment."

He says he and other homeless advocates are asking Mayor Ralph Becker and the police chief to look into ways of relaxing enforcement of this rule during times when the overflow shelter is closed and shelter beds are full.

"I think it's really important to remember that homeless people are human beings and they have human rights," Tibbitts says. "It's important that they have a place to sleep and that they don't, you know, suffer in ways that violate their human rights."

Tibbitts says Salt Lake City police officers are wasting their time waking up homeless people who are sleeping in parks when they could be spending that time patrolling neighborhoods for more serious crimes.

KSL spoke with the Salt Lake City Police Department about how often the camping and sleeping on public grounds ordinance is enforced. According to the department's spokesperson, officers are not always out actively looking to ticket people in the parks but they will write a camping citation if they see it.

"People can put down blankets and sit in the park and even sleep in the park during the day, but if one our officers would say, pulls up in at six in the morning and somebody were sleeping and they have all their stuff and they are obviously there for more than a picnic or to just relax in the park and they've been sleeping there overnight, and in essence camping, then the officer can cite them if he decides to," says Pat Wilkinson with the Salt Lake City Police Department.

Wilkinson says police enforce the city ordinance because parks have been designated for daily use and not as a campground. He says that's one reason there is a curfew for everyone, including the homeless, when it comes to use.

E-mail: spark@ksl.com

Shara Park

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