'We're fighting for our right to sleep'

More than four dozen homeless people and their supporters marched down Main Street Friday in an organized protest against police citations for illegal camping within city limits.

With a police cruiser following behind, the marchers walked through traffic carrying signs and leading chants urging officials to repeal an illegal-camping ordinance and provide a legal place for the homeless to sleep.

"We're trying to do this as peaceful as we can," said Joshua Scott, a 38-year-old homeless Ashland resident who's known as Zero.

"It's not a fight against the police, it's a fight for changing the city ordinance," he said.

Scott, who has been homeless in Ashland for eight years, said he understands the public's concern that creating a designated camping site for the homeless could attract more homeless to the city.

But he insisted that while many homeless people pass through Ashland each year, there are only about a dozen who stay there year-round. He didn't believe a small campsite would cause the homeless population to increase significantly.

"All we're saying is, 'Give us a place to sleep where we can be warm and dry; even if it's just in a tent,' that's all," he said.

The protest began with a crowd of 60 gathered in the Plaza at about 3 p.m. The marchers headed down Main Street to the Ashland library and back downtown on Lithia Way.

A significant number of the marchers were not homeless.

"I just feel like everyone has the right to lie down and go to sleep on the earth, and we have to make someplace for that to happen around here," said Debbie Levy, 51, of Ashland.

"The city certainly has some very good facilities, and areas that could be used to assist the temporarily homeless," said another non-homeless protester, John Fricker, 46, of Ashland.

The protest failed to gain the support of the entire Ashland homeless community, however.

"A large group of the homeless community chose not to support us," said homeless Ashland resident and protester Critter Satellite, 23.

One 25-year-old homeless man, who refused to give his name and didn't participate in the protest, said the idea of the city setting aside a piece of property for the homeless to use was "unrealistic."

"I believe the cops should stop writing tickets to campers," the lifelong Ashland resident said. "... But I don't believe they (homeless residents) should get their own little piece of land."

Friday's march came in the wake of a nine-day protest in which homeless residents pitched tents in the Plaza each night in an attempt to gain the attention of city officials.

About 25 homeless residents camped out in the Plaza on the night of Dec. 3, but the number of campers varied each night.

Even after Friday's march, protesters said they planned to continue camping in the Plaza until they can work out an agreement with the city that provides a legal place for them to sleep.

"We're fighting for our right to sleep," said Scott.

"When people are getting woke up at 1 in the morning, and getting a ticket and told to move in the middle of a rainstorm, you know it's getting a little bit crazy."

Sam Wheeler is a reporter for the Mail Tribune. Reach him at 541-776-4468.

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