A six-week protest by homeless rights activists outside Sacramento City Hall continued to escalate Tuesday night, when the City Council abruptly ended its meeting after protesters raised their voices and applauded during the hearing. Some protesters later refused to leave City Hall for more than an hour.
The City Council was a few minutes into a presentation on a council subcommittee addressing homelessness when members of the audience began speaking out. Councilman Rick Jennings, who was running the meeting in Mayor Kevin Johnson’s absence, issued a warning to the audience, then adjourned the meeting after some in the audience continued to raise their voices.
The council chambers erupted as some of the protesters walked down the aisle and tried to approach the dais. A line of police officers blocked their path as the protesters yelled at council members.
The activists headed to the lobby of City Hall, where some laid down on the floor and chanted “right to rest.” At 8:45 p.m., the sergeant of arms at City Hall told the activists they would be arrested if they did not leave the building within 15 minutes. The group eventually backed down, filing outside just before 9 p.m.
Large groups of protesters have been attending City Council meetings for weeks. Some of the protesters have been sleeping outside City Hall, seeking to persuade the city to repeal its ban on urban camping.
James Clark, a leader of the protest group, was among those who remained inside City Hall. He said “it’s very important that people express their outrage in a nonviolent fashion.”
“We’ve been at City Council meetings for over a year now, and they’ve never had a problem with applause before,” he said. “In fact, they love it when people applaud for the Kings, but tonight people applaud for the homeless and it’s called a disruption? That’s appalling, it doesn’t make any sense.”
City officials have said they will not bow to the protesters’ demand to repeal the camping ordinance, arguing the law is in place to safeguard public health. Officials also contend they are working on long-term solutions to homelessness, including assessing the needs of the city’s homeless population and identifying permanent housing options.
Councilman Jay Schenirer, who is leading the council subcommittee, said in an interview Wednesday the ongoing protests won’t change the work of the committee and that he thinks “we’re going to do what we think is right for the community.” Schenirer told the crowd during the council meeting that the committee would meet with representatives of the protest group and seek their input.
“My message would be: ‘You have a council that cares; work in partnership with us,’ ” he said. “I do think there is more that we can do.”
The council subcommittee expects to report to the full City Council by mid-April with a list of recommendations on budget and policy issues. Schenirer said he also expects to involve other agencies in the talks, including Sacramento County.