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From The Times Union
Saratoga Springs protesters: ‘Sitting is not a crime’
New Saratoga Springs law meant to unblock sidewalks is called “silly,” “ludicrous”
By Tim O’Brien | on June 11, 2016
Protesters took a seat on the steps of City Hall Saturday to object to a new law that bans sitting on sidewalks.
Some 70 people sat talking, holding signs and listening to a few people with guitars sing and play.
“Sitting is not a crime!” Randall Deschamps wrote on the sidewalk outside City Hall.
“It’s a ludicrous law,” he said. “It totally blindsided the community.”
The City Council approved the law 4-1 Tuesday with Mayor Joanne Yepsen the sole dissenter. A second offense would be a misdemeanor, making it a crime. Protesters said the law unfairly targeted the homeless, despite council members’ claims that was not their intent.
“When the law was passed, no one talked about bankers and lawyers in three-piece suits blocking the sidewalk,” said Linda LeTendre of Saratoga Springs. “They talked about vagrants, the homeless and people in need of hygiene.” The way to address issues of homelessness is not to ban sitting on sidewalks, she said. “The problem is not here in the community. It’s further up the line,” she said. Corporations and the wealthy get out of paying taxes, resulting in cuts in programs to address mental health care, addiction and other causes of homelessness.
“Homelessness isn’t the problem,” LeTendre said. “It’s the result of the problem.”
Rachel Lauber of Valley Falls said she travels to Saratoga Springs often. “I’ve never, ever, ever noticed any problem with vagrancy or panhandling,” she said. “Targeting people who have no means and threatening to fine them seems kind of silly.”
Karen Carmeli, Chris Gockley and Stephen Dornbush of Albany sat together during the protest. “We found out about the ordinance that was passed and were horrified,” Carmeli said. People pushing strollers or texting as they walk are more of an impediment than people sitting on sidewalks, Carmeli said.
Dornbush said money should be spent on prevention and treatment.
Police Chief Gregory Veitch, who stood across from the peaceful protest, said he doesn’t expect arrests under the law. “I would not expect the police to be vigorously enforcing this ordinance,” he said. There are other tools to address the issues raised of people blocking the sidewalk, engaging in disorderly conduct or aggressive anhandling, he said.
“Generally sitting on the sidewalk is not a problem,” he said.
From The Gazette Newspaper
Standing up for sitting down
Sidewalk law protested
BY DANIEL FITZSIMMONS Gazette Reporter
Protesting a new ordinance that outlaws sitting or lying on the sidewalk, dozens of Saratogians took to Broadway and planted themselves on the steps of City Hall and the surrounding sidewalk.
According to the ordinance, passed Tuesday, a person sitting or lying on the sidewalk would be issued a warning, and, if they refused to move, could be slapped with a violation and a $50-$100 fine. Second and third offenses, depending on how many days had passed since a prior offense, could result in a misdemeanor charge, $500 fine, and up to 30 days in jail.
Randall “Chalk Boy” Deschamps remembers hearing about the ordinance a few hours before it was to be voted on by the City Council.
“I was totally blown away,” said Deschamps, who attended the meeting June 7 to voice his opposition, but said the decision seemed to have already been made. “I think it was pretty obvious they already had their minds made up before the meeting.”
The measure was passed 4-1, with Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsin dissenting. Yepsin could not be reached for comment Saturday.
The ordinance, which city officials have said was designed with public safety in mind and meant to prevent people from obstructing foot traffic on the sidewalks, was widely criticized by residents who say it purposefully targets the homeless.
Deschamps remembers being thrown out on the streets of Saratoga as a boy.
“I was an 8-year-old throwaway,” said Deschamps, 58, “back when it was legal to get thrown out on the streets. Now it’s not, thank God.”
Now, 50 years later, he’s sporting long, whitish-gray dreadlocks, hands coated in a layer of chalk dust, no longer homeless but scribbling a message in support of the homeless on the sidewalk in front of City Hall.
“Sitting is not a crime,” he wrote.
Deschamps said Saratogians should take photos and videos any time they see the law being enforced and put their footage online. He said residents should also call City Council members and voice their opposition to the ordinance any chance they get.
“Eventually the council will get tired of hearing about it,” Deschamps said.
Saratoga resident Cathie Commerford said the homeless should not be punished.
“We need to do something about our homeless, not make new laws against them,” said Commerford. “We are a tourist town and we need solutions, but this isn’t it.”
Saratoga resident Nichole Baldwin said there’s no getting around the fact that city councilmembers were targeting the homeless.
“I think that the law they made this week needs to be challenged,” said Baldwin. “I think it targets homeless people and makes life harder for them.”
“They sometimes ask for money but I’ve never been bothered by them,” said Baldwin of panhandlers.
“I’ve had more of a problem with drunken tourists,” said Baldwin’s friend Dana Denison, who brought her 2-year-old daughter Samara to the protest.
Baldwin said Saratoga needs more funding for shelters and Denison said the homeless could use more psychiatric care.
“Fining them doesn’t make sense,” Denison said.
S a r a t o g i a n s T a m m y D’Ercole and Mary Mahoney also came out against the measure, and could be seen Saturday evening sitting with signs in front of City Hall criticizing the ordinance.
D’Ercole said she’s lived in Saratoga her whole life and doesn’t see the homeless as a problem.
“It’s shameful for this town to ignore the homeless problem and then punish them,” said D’Ercole.
The “root problem,” she said, is addiction and mental illness.
“We need to not hide them away … getting them services is the solution,” D’Ercole said.
Mahoney said Saratoga has a lot to be proud of in terms of helping the homeless, touting a program called Code Blue that gets homeless off the streets in freezing temperatures, but thinks this ordinance is regressive. “I see it as an imposition against civil rights,” she said.
Mahoney said the community is staging another protest on Friday, June 17, at 6 p.m. in front of Lillian’s Restaurant along the heart of Broadway.
Some in the crowd, which at one point swelled to about 70 people, sang songs and played ukuleles and guitars while others held protest signs. Most talked in small groups and fielded questions from a halfdozen reporters.
One protester, who gave his name only as Craig, was asked if he was prepared to get arrested if police ordered the crowd to disperse. “I guess,” he said. “I don’t have anything going on tomorrow.”
But it wouldn’t likely come to that. Police Chief Gregory Veitch, standing on the other side of Broadway in front of City Hall, surveyed the amiable gathering and didn’t seem worried about crowd control.
“They’re being peaceful and we don’t anticipate making any arrests tonight in connection with the protest,” Veitch said. He indicated that enforcing the new measure was not a huge priority for the department, but noted that “the law is the law.”
“I would not anticipate that the Police Department will aggressively enforce the ordinance that was just passed,” said Veitch. “We’ll defi nitely be using our discretion.”
ERICA MILLER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER
Protesters take part in a sunset sit-down at Saratoga Springs City Hall on Saturday. They are upset over a change in city code that bans sitting on the sidewalk and blocking pedestrians. See a photo gallery at