Tucson homeless camp has hours to leave downtown park

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — There were more social services providers than homeless people Friday afternoon at a downtown Tucson camp ordered to vacate by the end of the day.

Still, about 25 wooden sleeping pods and tents remained scattered around a historic park that was home to a group of about 60 homeless protesters for several months.

The protesters have until the evening to remove their wooden sleeping pods and tents after a federal judge told city attorneys that an injunction he issued previously did not prohibit them from clearing out the pods.

The camp is a spinoff of the Occupy movement and is believed to be the only one in the nation.

The protesters have been living on the sidewalks of Veinte de Agosto park next to government buildings, restaurants and boutiques in so-called “dream” pods and tents. They say Tucson ordinances unfairly target the homeless.

But city officials say the camp grew out of control, posing a public health risk while being a nuisance to the downtown workers, visitors and tourists.

Two weeks ago, the city requested that Judge David C. Bury clarify and amend a temporary injunction he issued late last year.

The order stems from an ongoing lawsuit filed in 2012 by camp leader Jon McLane and another activist. The lawsuit claims the protesters have a First Amendment right to be at the park 24 hours a day, seven days a week, although Tucson city ordinance imposes park curfews.

Last year, the city issued a new rule that allowed the homeless to have only three belongings with them: a bedroll, backpack and beverage. Bury’s order prohibits them from enforcing that rule while the rest of the case plays out in court.

But the city took the order to mean that they are not allowed to remove the sleeping pods. In court Tuesday, Bury scolded city attorneys for misinterpreting the order.

“I find that positon to be so disingenuous. It lacks credibility,” Bury said.

The city began issuing notices of violation later that day. Police have been monitoring the park while numerous social services agencies helped the protesters move their belongings or find shelters. The city placed a large dumpster in front of the park that had blankets, a futon frame and other items in it.

Pepper Ciesla, 39, has struggled with homelessness and substance abuse for several years. She moved to the park with her dog about a week ago in part because most shelters do not accept pets, she said.

On Friday, she had packed up her belongings— a large suitcase, a large backpack, sleeping bag and a bed for her dog. Ciesla was waiting to be picked up by a mental health agency that provides services, but she didn’t know where exactly she would go.

“It’s so hard to take a house full of things and then to do it again” she said.

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