Safe Park– the homeless camp located on the sidewalks of downtown Tucson– has been a political hot potato since a Tucson District Court ruled the sidewalk protest was protected speech in December 2014. With that ruling, Safe Park grew and coffin-like boxes called “dream pods” started rolling in–much to the dismay of city and county leaders and local businesses.
Debates raged– in the Arizona Daily Star, on Facebook, on the streets, and in multiple Tucson Mayor and Council meetings– about the validity Safe Park as a “protest”, the moral character of the primary leader, the overarching problem of homelessness, and what the city could or should do about the situation. Park residents and the City Council have been in negotiations to move Safe Park from the sidewalks of the Rio Nuevo business district to another a vacant lot within a mile of downtown, where this homeless community could camp and have access to bathrooms and showers. Safe Park Director and long-time homeless spokesperson, Jon McClane had asked for a homeless camp in each ward, but said that they were willing to move if the city could find a spot not far from downtown.
As the search for a suitable city-owned lot continued, recent developments have changed the political landscape. Police conducted a sting drug operation near Veinte de Agosto Park and arrested McClane and others on charges of possession of marijuana and possession for sale. The Arizona Daily Star. continued its character assassination against McClain, dredging up stories about his children and painting him as a charismatic opportunist, rather than a crusader. The US District Court Judge, who initially called Safe Park protected speech, issued a clarification that allows the city to remove the dream pods and tents. The latest news is that Safe Park dream pods and tents must be removed by Friday, March 13.
This blog post isn’t about the ongoing homeless controversy or the integrity of any of the leaders. It’s about the people I met at Safe Park last Thursday night.