“I’m less likely to get sick outside, I’m less likely to get scabies outside,” says Wesley Flowers, one of five people testifying about the sit-lie ordinance at this morning’s city council meeting. He described the conditions at the Salvation Army’s Harbor Lights 90-bed shelter, which the city opened in response to last month’s protest outside of city hall: He slept there last night, on a two-foot wide mat on the floor, that he described as crammed up against other mats. He said blankets are reused until they’re “so dingy” they have to be tossed out.
“Please don’t clap,” Mayor Tom Potter has said after the last two speakers, when the audience gave a small burst of supportive applause. He asked people to wave their support, instead. Katie Nilson, one of the protesters, called out from the crowd, asking Potter to then look at the audience so they know he’s seeing the support. “You’re out of order,” he told her.
“There’s nothing unreasonable about a person in a sleeping bag pulling a tarp over himself. That’s what this is about—the right to sleep,” says Pete Munyon. “This is about how we can live together as neighbors.”
“We are not all diseased. We are not all drug addicts and begging degenerates,” says Robert Barrett. “Our entire life is attached to our bags. To relieve us of this, to take off our bags and sit… is a luxury that is not afforded to us. We are a problem only because we are made to be a problem.”
“We will not sleep until our rights as citizens of the great United States of America are recognized,” Barrett added. “We will rise up.”
More clapping, more Potter asking people to stop.
Mike Dee, who was one of the people who testified on every item two weeks ago, has asked to pull every item from the consent agenda. Potter—taking a page from the actual rules this time—ruled the request “dilatory” and an effort to hamper the proceedings. Barring an objection from the other council members (of which there was none), he ignored Dee’s request. Dee, of course, objected, and Potter told him he was out of order and told him to sit down. In front of me, another protester spoke up: “You’re out of order!” he shouted at Potter.
The council passed the budget without much fanfare, but the testimony shenanigans have continued. Potter has officially cut off Dee for the rest of the day, after he attempted to testify on multiple items.
Now that the council is talking about allowing a few hundred temporary restrooms along the Rose Festival parade route, Dee and Nilson and a third protester are back.
"I feel like we're being targeted as criminals," says Katie Nilson, as she took her seat while Potter directed them to stick to the restroom topic. "I'll speak following Mike," she added, gesturing to Dee—who isn't allowed to testify, per Potter's orders, but has sat by Nilson anyway.
"You either speak or you don't speak," Potter tells her.
"Why are you being so rude?" Nilson asks. She launches into her testimony. "You guys promised bathrooms and day centers and let's see, what else, benches that you haven't come through with. I wonder why we're so interested in offering bathrooms to..."
If there were a natural disaster, "we would find a way to house people who had previously been housed. What's the immediate answer, I guess is my question," Nilson says.
Potter interrupts, asking Nilson to stick to the topic of restrooms at the Rose Festival parade. "You're more interested in serving the issues of people who are already comfortable, sleeping eight hours a night in their own houses and have access to restrooms," she says. "I just think it's very reflective of the classism that's involved in all of this."
"We have in the budget 3/4 of a million dollars in the budget to build restrooms in Old Town," Leonard says. "It will be installed by the middle of August in Old Town... to be followed shortly thereafter by more public restrooms."
"I do expect people, if they're going to go so far as to disrupt our proceedings, to at least know what you're talking about," Leonard adds.