Safe Legally Entitled Emergency Places to Sleep

image Dustin Ross Photography

By Dustin Ross

The Taboo of Lying Down

image – Dustin Ross Photography

We don’t really think about lying down as anything but a God-given right. Anytime we feel like resting horizontally, we do it! We fall onto our couches, our beds, and relax. In public, however, the norm is that we don’t do that. Rarely is anyone seen completely lying down in public and if they are, they must be homeless. And here it is, the potent label that cuts distinction between those that lie down outside, and everybody else. Homeless.

That’s what the SLEEPS protest is all about at its core. SLEEPS simply stands for Safe Legally Entitled Emergency Places to Sleep. Their concern is not elusive to most, even those who fervently oppose the protest—those who shout “Get a job!” as they drive by—understand what the issue is. Or do they? I myself thought I understood when I came to Eugene to photograph the protest and the people involved. I was surprised by what I found.

They welcomed me. They were good spirited and courteous. They were organized. Information was laminated to large boards citing constitutional rights and local laws. They spoke to me about their belief that we as a society could do better with regard to treatment of our citizens. And as if to completely boot my preconceived notions of what a homeless protest might be, one of the members sat reading, educating himself on recent laws passed aimed at incriminating the homeless. His white beard, mixed attire and absence of a tooth aligned him well into the stereotype of his popular classification, all behavioral and spoken evidence to the contrary.

The humility that rushed over me brought about inspiration to understand the issue of sleeping to its core. That night I made the decision to try it out. I waited until it was late and I was tired enough to have no other choice but to seek a dry place to sleep. It slowly crept up on me as I walked around with my heavy pack full of camera gear that I was without a place to stay. Literally, shut out from this basic function of our organism. We have to lie down in order for our bodies to repair. And here I was, like so many others, denied this right, this fundamental necessity, without paying for approved and designated areas to do so.

image Dustin Ross Photography
image Dustin Ross Photography

I grabbed a few free newspapers from a gas station and headed to the I-5 onramp bridge near downtown Eugene. I found a dirt plot behind one of three ramp support columns that was vacant, spread the paper and lay down for the first time all day. Relief pulsed through my sore body for the initial moments until fear of my situation began to replace my physical ailments as my main concern. I now realized I was alone and vulnerable. There in the dark, tucked away in the very heart of the city, I began to understand how this denial of safe places to sleep distills fear and further alienates those who cannot afford what everyone else demands of them. I was startled in this moment as a man, another homeless, a stranger in the night approached me. He spoke and never came within a few meters as he asked me how much police checked this area. I tell him I have no idea. I have never slept here. He did not stay.

Imagine living like this nightly. Imagine the fear of being hauled away by police. Can you feel the anxiety of returning to such a location knowing drug addicts might be lurking, waiting to steal your few possessions? With little to no other locations to go, what do we really expect from these citizens? How can they “get a job” when sleep, this basic notion of rest, is laden with psychological trauma and the high potential for physical harm? It is inconceivable to me.

This is really what the issue is about. On the one hand we try to keep our communities safe by deterring behavior that is seemingly unhealthy to the rest of us, but on the other we attempt to stamp out this behavior while simultaneously demanding that they live up to community standards. We cannot at the same time shake a hand while dealing a blow, and this is the flaw as I see it with the status quo response to homelessness.

These are people. They deserve to be treated by all of us as humanely as they’ve treated me. I extend my hand to them.

Learn more at and the proposed Opportunity Village.

[author] [author_image][/author_image] [author_info] Dustin Ross is a professional photographer specializing in humanitarian nonprofits.

Here is the original post at Dustin Ross Photography[/author_info] [/author]


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