Homeless people, advocates gather to protest ordinances

by Emily Johns

With a blanket wrapped around his shoulders and a steaming cup of hot chocolate in his hands, Buddy Gail Horton Jr. discussed his life as a homeless man in Minneapolis.

Horton, who has been homeless for more than 20 years, is originally from Denver. He moved to the Twin Cities in 1994 and has been living on the streets here ever since.

Horton gathered with homeless people and advocates for the homeless Thursday night, protesting Minneapolis’ homelessness ordinances on the south lawn of the Hennepin County Government Center in downtown Minneapolis.

The protest started at 3 p.m. Thursday and continued through the night.

The group – made up of more than 20 people – spent the night on the lawn, with tents, sleeping bags and banners, taking a stand against ordinances they say are unfair to the city’s homeless people.

The event was a kick-off to a larger effort by activists to bring the issue of homelessness to the forefront of the City Council.

Council member Dean Zimmerman, 6th Ward, who could not be reached for comment Friday, will present a resolution to his committee calling for the suspension of a Minneapolis city ordinance that forbids sleeping outside or in a car until affordable housing is available for everyone in Minneapolis, according to Margaret Hastings, the event organizer.

“We are not society – politicians and other people distance themselves from us,” said Richard Heil, a protestor at the camp out. Heil said he hoped this camp out would make it more difficult for politicians to overlook the problems.

“They’ve purposely put on the blinds,” Horton said. “How can you overlook the homeless? They’re everywhere.”

Although sleeping on the government center lawn is illegal according to Minneapolis ordinance, Mayor R.T. Rybak instructed police officers not to arrest them, Hastings said. Although she is not homeless, Hastings said she attended the event because she considers herself a citizen of conscience.

“I’m fed up,” she said. “It just sickens me that people can walk by and these politicians have ignored it. They don’t care about people unless they have money,” Hastings said.

Horton said he believes the camp out will help city politicians see the problem more clearly, and they will be able to make better decisions about homelessness.

“Common sense and compassion have to be present to make the right decision,” Horton said.

According to Hastings, other cities in the United States have similar ordinances against sleeping outside or in a car.

Protestors discussed the homelessness ordinances in Minneapolis and the stereotypes against homeless people.

“We’re outcasted as well as exiled in a land of plenty,” Horton said.

“(Politicians) need to get a conscience and stop worrying about stadiums,” Hastings said.

“Not everybody drinks alcohol or uses drugs,” he said. “There is mental illness, however, because this is far beyond traumatic.”

City Council members could not be reached for comment Friday.

Emily Johns welcomes comments at [email protected]