More than 100 people demonstrated outside City Hall Tuesday to protest the city's policy of issuing misdemeanor illegal lodging tickets to the homeless, many of whom continued the protest by spending the night outside City Hall.
The protesters, who marched down Broadway from 13th Street to City Hall about 2:30 p.m., said they want the city to halt the practice of giving tickets for sleeping in doorways, parks and other places.
They want the city to place a moratorium on the practice and to declare amnesty, which would invalidate all pending illegal lodging violations for the last 10 years.
The protesters said they will end their camp-out this morning and attend a San Diego City Council subcommittee meeting where the amnesty, moratorium and a range of other homeless issues will be discussed.
Currently, San Diego police only cite somebody for illegal lodging if they receive a complaint from a property owner, a policy change made in December.
The protest march carried the demonstrators through 13 blocks in the heart of downtown San Diego, but no arrests were made and nobody was injured during either the march or the protest at City Hall.
The group of demonstrators, who stretched just short of a city block, waved signs that read "Act Responsibly, Help the Homeless" and shouted "Housing Is a Human Right" as they made their way to City Hall.
"If somebody doesn't have a place to sleep and they don't have any money, then when you give them a ticket, it's like making a criminal out of them," said Larry Milligan, president of Habitat, a homeless advocacy group that organized the demonstration.
In the past year, San Diego police have issued about 8,000 tickets to people caught lodging illegally and more than 20,000 warrants have been issued over the past five years, said Ross McCollum, an administrator with the city manager's office.
"We're hoping that somebody will walk up to a computer and make those tickets vanish," Milligan said.
Many people who participated in the march and demonstration said full shelters and a tight job market have combined to create conditions that have pushed them into the streets.
"All the shelters are full and there's no place to sleep," said James Robey, an unemployed lithographer. "We've got to sleep somewhere."
The 39-year-old homeless man pulled three crumpled pink citations from his wallet as evidence of his experience with the city's ticketing policy.
"Everybody tears them up and throws them away," he said. "It's just a waste of time."
The protesters urged city officials to quit issuing tickets and to find solutions to the larger problem of helping the homeless.
"The city needs to help the problem instead of citing a human being for sitting on the ground," said Joe Cuseo, a member of San Diego Catholic Workers, a group that helps feed the homeless. "We're not talking about animals, we're talking about human beings."
Members of the legal community also participated in Tuesday's events and joined the rest of the demonstrators in asking the city to change its policies.
"It's the same thing as in the Wild West when you shoot someone or when you're at the beach and you kick sand in someone's face," said Steve Binder, a deputy public defender. "You're hitting someone when they're down and out."