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Friday, June 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Tucson Clearing Out|Homeless Protesters

TUCSON (CN) - Dozens of homeless people living along sidewalks in downtown Tucson have until Friday evening to leave the area with their tents and "dream pods," city officials said.

The light-blue sleeping boxes, built of plywood, two-by-fours and corrugated metal, have proliferated around Veinte de Agosto Park since January.

About 70 of the structures, called "dream pods" by the organizers of the Occupy-related protest, stood along sprawling campsites and tents in the heart of the city's government district on Thursday.

The dream pods began to show up on a sidewalk on the east side of the park in response to a preliminary injunction issued in late December by U.S. District Judge David Bury in an ongoing civil-rights action against the city.

Bury temporarily enjoined the city from enforcing ordinances that limit the number of possessions a sidewalk protester can have to a bedroll, a backpack and a non-alcoholic beverage.

Finding that the sidewalks around the park are the "exclusive venue available to the plaintiffs to conduct a 24-hour vigil," Bury enjoined the city from removing people or property from them as long as a "five-foot path is left unobstructed on the sidewalk and 8 feet is left open from any doorway or business entrance."

The city in February appealed to the 9 th Circuit , but in the meantime the downtown camp has continued to grow, even attracting people from out of state.

City attorneys this week asked Bury to clarify his order , arguing that "any reasonable interpretation" of the code would allow the city to remove the pods and tents. Bury refused to modify his order, but suggested that the city could close the camp by enforcing health and safety codes.

Tucson police on Tuesday posted notices giving protesters and campers until 6 p.m. Friday to clear out.

The judge "provided clarity, which is what the city needed, that those pods are not covered by the First Amendment," city spokeswoman Lane Mandle told Courthouse News on Thursday.

Mandle said that the city has been cleaning the sidewalks "constantly" during the months-long protest, and stepped up police patrols in the area.

Jon McLane, one of two plaintiffs in the civil rights action that gave rise to the camp, and the main organizer of the protest, was arrested last week in a drug sting.

Undercover Tucson Police officers infiltrated the camp and made "20 separate purchases of illegal drugs, from 12 different suspects in the area," buying "methamphetamine, marijuana, prescription pills and mushrooms," the city police chief said in a statement.

McLane was charged with possessing and selling marijuana.

Mandle said that she "anticipates things are going to go quite smoothly" on Friday during the dismantling, and that social services agencies will be on hand to help people who need transitional housing.

She said the pods will be removed from the sidewalks and held at a secure lot for 30 days.

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