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[whitespace] Larry Templeton Paradise Gives Thanks: Camp Paradise founder Larry Templeton serves applesauce at the camp's Thanksgiving dinner.

Photograph by Bobby Woodside


Paradise On Trial

Camp Paradise celebrated Thanksgiving with a turkey dinner and large spoonfuls of emotion. "It's the first Thanksgiving I've had since I was 18," said camp founder Larry Templeton, 41, doling out apple sauce. "We're not hurting anyone. We're helping people. How can the city condemn us?"

Three days earlier, Templeton and fellow campers Kathryn Phillips, Jeffery Jeppeson and Randy Sue Winchell were in court contesting tickets issued in August under the City of Santa Cruz's "camping ban," which prohibits sleeping and setting up bedding between 11pm and 8:30am, as well as setting up camp anytime.

The Santa Cruz Police Department issued a total of 33 tickets to campers August 3 (Nüz, Aug. 8) for violating the ban on "setting up camp" and offered some campers motel vouchers, but only two couples could make use of the offer, motels being full on summer weekends. Told tickets would be dismissed if they moved, some campers left. Others stayed, saying they lacked a safe alternative. On Nov. 19, seven of the campers appeared in court, where three had their tickets dismissed for lack of evidence.

Trial Commissioner Irwin Joseph charged the remaining four--Templeton, Phillips, Jeppeson and Winchell--with "setting up camp", as evidenced by tents occupied by the defendants, a power generator, a vegetable garden and kitchen facilities.

Templeton's attorney, Matthew Williamson, and Paul Sanford, representing the camp, then set out to exonerate their clients using the "necessity defense," also known as the Eichorn defense, after James Eichorn, who was convicted in 1993 of violating Santa Ana's camping ban after being found in a sleeping bag outside the Santa Ana Civic Center. Eichorn successfully appealed, arguing he had no alternative but to sleep outside, thereby preventing "a significant evil" (in his case sleep deprivation and possible assault) without creating a greater danger than the one avoided.

Santa Cruz Assistant City Attorney Jennifer Pousho maintained campers had a viable alternative in the motel vouchers--but this argument was rejected because campers were issued vouchers without 24 hours notice and after being cited.

On the second day of the trial, Templeton, Phillips, Jeppeson and Winchell painted a sobering portrait of conditions facing the homelessness. Testifying from a wheelchair, Phillips said she felt safe in Camp Paradise, because "there's no drugs, alcohol or fighting, unlike other camps." Barriers to finding a job, Phillips said, included "weighing 300 pounds, being in a wheelchair and having diabetes, asthma and arthritis."

Templeton, a Santa Cruz resident since 1984, told how campers pooled money to rent port-a-potties. which the city removed, even as it voiced sanitation concerns. "The Quakers helped out with camping toilets," said Templeton, who also testified that he's seen homeless people being attacked. On disability since breaking his back in three places, Templeton didn't qualify for shelter space because he "wasn't a family." Admitting he's been told his activities were illegal, Templeton asked, "Where else can we go?"

Winchell, a former high-tech employee making $6,000 a month, finally ended up at Camp Paradise penniless after a series of misfortunes in the wake of the dotcom bust. Winchell, who arrived at the camp July 31, was awakened Aug. 3 by police unzipping her tent and ticketing her without prior notice.

Next came Jeppeson, wearing a Loony Tunes tie ("The first time I've ever worn a noose" he later told Nüz) as he testified that he has a bullet near his heart and full-blown HIV, but still

didn't qualify for shelter. "Paradise," he told the court, "is the safest place I've ever been."

Paul Brindel of the Community Action Board quoted a 1999 memo from Chief of Police Steve Belcher , which stated the city's homeless are three to five times more likely to be assaulted than the housed. Brindel, who runs CAB's Shelter Project, said neither Phillips nor Templeton would have qualified for a bed. "Disabilities are not enough. And a single male without children is bottom of the list."

Ken Cole, executive director of the Homeless Services Center, testified that someone with no medical emergency has a "slim-to-grim chance of getting a bed during the summer." Asked if his staff ever referred a homeless person to Camp Paradise, Cole, whose organization gets a portion of funding from city, answered, "informally, yes. Many are former homeless people. As such, they support survival."

Cole said that by building up and publicizing the camp, Templeton "had put the city in an impossible situation."

Referring to an informal understanding he called "the social contract," Cole said most homeless individuals keep a low profile, pack their trash, and cold camp.

"If they stay low, generally they are left alone. An established camp with generator and bike shop flew in the face of that."

Acknowledging that the "social contract isn't written down anywhere," Cole read into the record a form letter that his staff routinely issued to clients denied housing.

"Be aware that with no alternatives for emergency shelter he/she has no choice but to camp out or sleep in a car. This situation is likely to continue all summer due to lack of space," Cole quoted from the letter.

Carl Wilson, a neighbor of Camp Paradise said campers turned a garbage dump into a park. "Previously it was disgusting and upsetting to go down there, because of trash, drunks and drug dealers," he said.

Countering the pro-Paradise testimony, Pousho said, "campers' life circumstances don't give them the right to set up camp."

Williamson fought back, insisting, "If they had been scattered and therefore unsafe, it would have been all right. But they got together and cleaned up the place, and that got them in trouble."

Camp Paradise attorney Sanford observed that foisting the campers onto other jurisdictions isn't an appropriate solution, noting that the city has more than 1,200 homeless, but only 100 beds and no legal campsites.

"No combination of government assistance could get my clients close to affordable housing," said Sanford. "This is really about the criminilization of poverty."

Pousho replied with the "slippery slope" theory. "If what they [Williamson and Sanford] are proposing is true, homeless people all over the state have the ability to set up camp anywhere," she warned, as the judge said he'd make his decision Nov. 26.

Asked over Thanksgiving dinner how he thought the case would go, Templeton waxed optimistic. "I think the judge is gonna rule in our favor. If not, we're gonna appeal." As for Pousho's slippery-slope argument, Templeton joked, "She must have come in the wrong way--unless she was hiding on riverbank. We walk on a pretty flat trail. Even with the rain."

Reached by cell phone, Sanford said the sky would not fall, if the judge accepted the necessity defense. "The necessity defense doesn't give anyone permission to stay, but represents a decision not to punish such an individual despite proof of the crime," said Sanford, noting that Commissioner Joseph "is an even-handed man. He may split the baby just to give everyone something, but he's going to have to explain in writing how the campers could have found an alternative."

Sanford's prediction largely came true Monday (Nov. 26). Joseph found that "establishment of a camp, relatively permanent in nature, is not a 'necessity-based response' to the homeless condition" but noted that, "if the defendants were charged with sleeping in a public place [as opposed to erecting or maintaining a campsite] the result might be different."

Though "testifying experts agree there should be a compact or guarantee that the city provide housing for its residents," Joseph noted this is a goal, not a mandate. "Alternatives to Camp Paradise do exist, they just don't appeal to the residents who have tasted a caring community," wrote Joseph, suspending Jeppeson and Phillips' sentences because of health and financial problems. He ordered Templeton and Winchell to perform eight hours community service, then suspended their sentences, because the camp has already cleaned up the area extensively.

From Sanford's vantage, the case was "never entirely about the infractions, but about telling the stories of shocking situations that exist in our community. I'm confident the city will learn from this experience in their handling of the homeless. Defending Camp Paradise has been the most profound and meaningful experience of my career."

Campers, who weathered heavy rains last weekend, took the judgment in their stride. "It's a loss and a win," said Templeton, vowing to "stay until we get another piece of land. Can the city really afford to keep going to court?"

Asked how much it cost to prosecute four campers for tickets totaling $216, Sanford guesstimated, "deep into the five figures. If you include law enforcement, city staff and city attorneys, it's probably approaching six figures now."

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From the November 28-December 5, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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