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Homeless activists staged a sleep-in on the courthouse steps that... (Dan Coyro/Sentinel File)

SANTA CRUZ -- This summer, the city successfully won an injunction against a musician who had been cited more than 20 times for violating a ban on overnight camping.

Authorities also made more than 20 arrests and issued 100-plus citations in July and August in connection with a protest against the ban that began on the county courthouse lawn and moved to City Hall, dubbed Peace Camp 2010 by the demonstrators.

The year also saw the City Council increase its three-strikes law against violators of city code, a move meant to put more muscle behind laws against camping, loitering downtown and aggressive panhandling. The new rule allows the city to seek misdemeanor charges against people who fail to respond to three or more citations in six months.

All of these steps demonstrated that homelessness, specifically the city's camping ordinance, was a controversial newsmaker in 2010, just as it has been in many years past. And just as in years past, the line between illegal behavior on the part of some transients was blurred with the over-arching, ever-present problem of homelessness, which continues to frustrate city officials and nonprofit workers advocating for the homeless.

But some advocates, like those who organized the summer protest, say it's wrong to create laws that effectively make it illegal not to have shelter or to beg for financial help on the street. As attorney Ed Frey, an organizer of the protest who is now defending the citations of participants in court, said last week: Campers just "need a place to sleep."

Councilwoman Katherine Beiers, a member of the Homeless Services Center's board, said the years-long struggle over the camping ban has been frustrating, but she believes the city should focus its efforts now on simply providing more shelter.

The Homeless Services Center has just 46 beds available on a 30-day rotating basis for emergency shelter. The River Street Shelter has 32 beds set aside for the same purpose, but 60 percent are held for referrals from the county's mental health agency.

"Nobody can get stable and move on if every night they have to figure out a place to sleep," Beiers said. "That's where the energy and money has to go."

Beiers and other advocates acknowledge there is a lot of work to be done to change the public's perception about the ties between homelessness and drug dealing, camping and other problems. In the spring, the Homeless Services Center came under fire from critics who believed the program lacked security and effectiveness, but new director Monica Martinez has been hailed for making a number of changes to better the center's security and relationship with the community.

But Miguel DeLeon, the homeless musician, and the protest provided fodder for those who have long argued that the city's generous social services funding has made it a magnet for transients. In August, a judge issued a permanent injunction against DeLeon, ordering him not to sleep outside after 11 p.m. The protest started July 5 when people began sleeping overnight on the courthouse lawn.

More than a month later, as frustration over the unsightly camp mounted among judges and other court workers, sheriff's deputies began making arrests and issuing citations. When demonstrators moved to the City Hall courtyard, they were met with more citations and arrests by police before the protest effectively ended in late August.

However, the demonstration appeared to have had some effect. Several weeks later, the council voted to dismiss citations for camping if a homeless person was on a shelter wait list when the ticket was issued. Robert Norse, an advocate for the homeless, called the change "a minor step forward" but added, "It does no good to say you are on a waiting list because you still have to sleep outside."