Edie Jessup of Affordable Homeless Housing Alternatives addresses the rally Tuesday with statistics about local homelessness. Brandie Wilson of the Humboldt Area Center for Harm Reduction stands behind her. (Shomik Mukherjee — The Times-Standard)
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Local groups and more than two dozen people joined for a Tuesday morning rally as part of National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, holding signs at the Humboldt County Courthouse and calling for local officials to stop criminalizing homelessness.

In particular, the activists pointed to a number of Eureka city ordinances that they say “target” homelessness. These include laws that prohibit loitering or sleeping in a public place, having a shopping cart or parking a bicycle on a sidewalk.

Urinating in public is also not allowed — an unfair policy, since Eureka has very few public restrooms, said Nezzie Wade of Affordable Homeless Housing Alternatives.

She pointed to a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which ruled in September that a government cannot criminalize homeless people for sleeping outdoors on public property.

If Eureka doesn’t comply with the new precedent, it will be due for a big lawsuit, said Edie Jessup of AHHA.

“The consequences (of these laws) are that homeless people are run around or issued citations,” Jessup said. “And their meager possessions are taken away from them.”

“We need safe camping, legal camping,” Wade added. “(The county) needs to start designating spaces to make that available. They could work with nonprofits who are willing, like we are, to operate and manage some of those sites.”

Local municipalities are already making progress on addressing the problems, Wade said, but they need to “step up the pace.”

Activists held signs, calling attention not just to homelessness in Eureka but in other areas of the county, including at Humboldt State University. (Shomik Mukherjee — The Times-Standard)

The sheer amount of homelessness, the activists said, greatly exceeds the number of beds that shelters like the Betty Kwan Chinn Day Center can provide. Eureka has a high number of houseless locals, Jessup said, but even hundreds of students at Humboldt State University can’t secure housing.

Signs held by attendees Tuesday proclaimed statements like, “Low-income households can’t afford housing” and “Legalize sleep.”

“We talk about people needing housing to be healthy, but it’s more than shelter,” said Brandie Wilson of Humboldt Area Center for Harm Reduction. “People need a space to heal, and heal from all types of pain.”

Trauma can’t be healed by sleeping in the streets, Wilson said. Those who are able to overcome mental health problems while houseless should be celebrated, she said, but many others need more help.

“We cannot continue to do what we have always done and continue down this inhumane path of despair,” she said.

Shomik Mukherjee can be reached at 707-441-0504.

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