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Ashland homeless hold 'Homeless Lives Matter' protest against camping ordinance

Daniel Rueff, who was once homeless himself, organized Friday's 'Homeless Lives Matter' protest in Ashland. (KTVL/Genevieve Grippo)

Ashland's homeless community rallied together Friday night in an effort to ban the city's camping ordinance, which prohibits sleeping in public spaces.

One section of the ordinance even includes a section on sleeping on benches, declaring it unlawful for anyone to sleep on a bench between the hours of 9 p.m. and 8 a.m.

During the protest at the pavilion in downtown Ashland, homeless residents and advocates held signs reading "Homeless Lives Matter" and "Poor Lives Matter."

They said the camping ordinance unfairly targets homeless people who sleep on the streets.

"That violates one of our most essential human rights," said Sasha Dodd, who has been homeless in Ashland for about a year. "It violates our right to rest and regain our energy so that we have the opportunity to go out and change our lives and fulfill the American dream."

Protesters said the issue needs to be solved at bureaucratic level.

"I understand with the police-- they're just doing their job," said Daniel Rueff, one of the organizers of the protest and was formerly homeless. "I think we need to speak more to the city council, the chamber of commerce and city government."

Ultimately, Rueff said he'd like to see the camping ordinance either thrown out all together, or rewritten to include a designated outdoor space where people won't be ticketed for camping.

According to Rueff, the perfect 'safe zone' would be in the forested area above Lithia Park in an area called the Fairy Ponds.

"They even have a gravel pit on the other side. If they're worried about fire, that would be a better solution," said Rueff.

This controversy isn't unique to Ashland. Most recently, a camping law in Boise, Idaho was found unconstitutional by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The court found prosecuting people for sleeping on the streets constitutes 'cruel and unusual punishment," a violation of the Eighth Amendment.

But that ruling doesn't quite apply to Ashland, where public camping is technically a violation- not a criminal offense. Yet illegal campers can still be ticketed, and fines can be upwards of $200 a piece.

"It shouldn't be illegal for people to sleep wherever they want," said Erika Linderman, a student at Ashland Middle School. "Especially if someone doesn't have enough money for a bed, where you are watching this on TV, then you can't judge someone for not having the money to do so."

For businesses in downtown Ashland, finding a balance between compassion and protection rides a fine line.

"I've had really good experiences with a lot of the homeless people here," said Little Tokyo's Head Server Sam Dean.

The majority of the time, Dean has no trouble with the homeless community. Some even purchase small meals at his restaurant frequently.

But, he said there are exceptions that create a need for something like the camping ordinance.

"I want these guys to have good place to sleep at night, but the sidewalks and stuff can't be the place," said Dean.

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