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Homeless Activists Meet with City Officials

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SACRAMENTO --

Sunday night Janet Dammit and Tom Cruise, both homeless, were ticketed for outdoor camping near Sacramento City Hall. He's a smoker, she has a dog -- both of which, they say, make it hard for them to stay at a homeless shelter.

Nonetheless, they broke a city ordinance. Police have to do their jobs.

"I don't like it, not one bit. We're not bothering anybody,” said Cruise.

It’s exchanges like these that prompted city officials to meet Monday morning with leaders of the homeless protest after nearly 80 days of their demonstrating outside City Hall. The group of mostly homeless protesters was given a chance to speak directly to city council members about their grievances.

"I think it's a beginning of a discussion,” said City Councilman, and chairman of the city’s homeless task force Jay Schenirer, who will meet with officials in Seattle this week to borrow ideas for how they've handled their homeless population. He'll bring with him proposals from Sacramento protesters.

Outdoor camping in Seattle is allowed in certain areas, an idea Schenirer says Sacramento City Council hasn't ruled out.

"We have a lot of questions. I want to see how they work with their communities and how the communities are responding to having these tent cities,” said Schenirer.

The meeting Monday morning was private, however shortly afterwards councilmembers Schenirer and Jeff Harris spoke with a few of the protesters on the protest site, outside of city hall.

"I think there are reasons for optimism because there is so much shared interest in responding to the crisis of homelessness,” said Shahera Hyatt, director of the California Homeless youth project.

Hyatt has joined the protest. She says a solution begins with the city addressing laws that penalize people for being homeless.

As far as the protest itself, leaders say they won’t back down.

"Until people have the right to be able to rest, we're not going to be able to move the protest,” said protest leader James “Faygo” Clark.

Both sides say now they at least see a path toward a middle ground.