Eureka to make sleeping or drinking in public a misdemeanor

By Gabriele Fellows
Planet Humboldt

You can be arrested for sleeping or drinking in public within the Eureka city limits if a new law is passed.

At tonight’s City Council meeting, an ordinance was introduced amending sections of the Eureka Municipal Code to allow the City Attorney more discretion when dealing with open container or sleeping in public charges.

Individuals caught drinking alcohol or sleeping in public may be charged with a misdemeanor instead of merely an infraction. It might soon be illegal t0 lay in an alley, sleep on the sidewalk or drink intoxicating liquor on the street. If caught, a police officer could issue you a ticket indicating you’ve committed a misdemeanor. Receiving a ticket in of itself is considered “being arrested”, but depending on your temperament or the cop’s mood, they may or may not haul you to jail.

“If anyone thinks that someone should be arrested for sleeping, that’s a mental illness, ” Dane Carr declared. Mr. Carr came to Eureka to escape religious prosecution and to find employment. Unable to do so, he joined the now disbanded Occupy Eureka group and is currently homeless. He stated for the record that he does not have a mental illness nor does he consume drugs. “You can’t criminalize the right to sleep – life must sleep or it dies.”

Dane along with other citizens in attendance voiced concern with how this new law would affect others without roofs. John Shelter stated that there was a lack of affordable housing options for members of our community. ‘Homeless, not houseless, are some of the most vulnerable individuals in our society,” he said. Mr. Shelter thinks the city likes to chase them away and move the problem from community to community. Punishing homelessness instead of addressing the issue is ineffective, he suggested. “Lets try something different.”

John Chiv was against criminalizing homelessness, but only thought peaceful people should sleep outside. Chiv thinks some homeless people make unsafe conditions for working individuals by harassing and threatening them and that there should be consequences. “I have a right to sleep too… and a right to work, ” he said.

The only input from the council after closing public comment concerned fermented grapes. Council member Marian Brady was concerned about public events where bubbly beverages are sold. “You cant have a wine event, just a beer event?” she asked. This question pertained to a section about “intoxicating beverages” which stated that it was O.K. to drink beer on a park or public playground if a permit was issued.

Brady thought this was confusing because you can drink Martini’s at the park, referring to a fundraising event called “Brew at the Zoo” held at Sequoia Park. City Attorney Cyndy Day-Wilson clarified that it was permissible because the zoo isn’t a public park and a permit is issued.

Brady also said there were plenty of places for homeless people to go and for whatever reasons they choose not to, as the Chief of Police had given them a list.

Linda Atkins had an issue with the new code because she thought there was no place for homeless people to go. “We don’t have any place in the city where people can sleep legally,” Atkins said. She wanted to have a campground where homeless individuals could call home without being harassed or intimidated by police.

Councilman Mike Newman thought there were plenty of places to sleep besides the Eureka Rescue Mission. He was for adding the update to the ordinance to include wine and reiterated that you can drink on a park or public playground if it’s a permitted event. “I’m in complete agreeance with this ordinance update,” he said.

The council directed the City Attorney to modify the motion to include wine before passing it 4-1 with Atkins dissenting. The ordinance will be up for final adoption at the next regular Council meeting.

Gabriele Fellows can be reached at Humbee33@gmail.com