Jerome Clark prepares for bed at Necessity Village, an encampment set up… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)
Until the mats, blankets and other comforts of Necessity Village were finally packed up at sunrise Tuesday, Jerome Clark had been sleeping soundly for the first time in years.
For the last decade, the 65-year-old homeless man's on-and-off residence has been the Santa Ana Civic Center, usually the lawn. Like others who live on the streets of Orange County's second largest city, Clark said his nights were fitful, sleep always elusive as he worried about being slapped with a ticket for violating the city's no-camping ordinance.
But after a handful of Occupy Santa Ana members set up the encampment and watched over as many as 25 homeless men each night, Clark said police officers left him alone and he slept like a king.
"By myself, I don't stand a chance," the former carpenter said.
The activists said they erected Necessity Village to protest anticamping citations and to draw attention to the need for a year-round emergency shelter in the heart of the county. But they failed Monday night to get the City Council to halt the ticketing, or even to agree to study the issue.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, April 19, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 53 words Type of Material: Correction
Santa Ana homeless: In the April 18 LATExtra section, a headline on an article about a camp for the homeless set up by Occupy Santa Ana said that police cleared the camp. Santa Ana police did not force the campers to disband. The police issued warnings, and the group disbanded on its own.
During the weeklong occupation, the Santa Ana Police Department didn't ticket any of the protesters or the homeless who slept in the civic center. On Tuesday about 5:30 a.m., however, the police moved in and began issuing warnings.
The anticamping tickets can result in fines up to $500 but are usually handled through a special homeless court and, even then, are handed out only after warnings.
"It's basically a case-by-case basis," said police spokesman Cpl. Anthony Bertagna.
But Massimo Marini, a 29-year-old bartender from Dana Point and advocate for the homeless, said it is not fair to issue citations to the homeless when, for some, there is no alternative place to sleep. A National Guard armory that provides shelter for the homeless during cold months closed April 10, the same day Necessity Village was set up.
"People are going to sleep here and that shouldn't be a crime," Marini said.
Around 7 p.m. Monday, the activists lighted candles that were arranged around tarps spread on the ground, as men and women claimed their spots and stowed their belongings.
On a nearby sidewalk, chalk lines marked the number of nights the group had camped out.
Clark quietly played chess with Nick Dorsey, an activist. Dorsey, a loan officer from Santa Ana, said he thinks the group has been successful, though it remains unclear what the next step might be.
"We're just trying to make a statement and I think we've made a statement," said Dorsey, 18. "I don't think this is the end either."
For now, Clark will continue to sleep where he can. He was given a ticket in February and hopes that he can be sentenced to community service rather than be ordered to pay a fine.
He said he's tired of life on the streets. His wallet has been stolen, and his bike has been taken four times.
"I'm not out there robbing people," he said. "I put myself in this mess."
He said his former life still brings him a smile. He was married, lived in a house on a hill in San Juan Capistrano and owned a construction company. Sometimes, he said, he'd take sun-soaked vacations in Mexico.
But on Tuesday morning, just as the sun is starting to break, Clark was sitting in the cold on a foam mat, pulling on his socks and getting ready for another day on the streets. Before long, he'd search for a bathroom where he could wash up.
"There's about nothing that anybody can do about it," he said of the anticamping law that keeps him moving. "It's the law."