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Feb 17, 2014 12:31 AM by Sam Salzwedel

Homeless at Downtown Tucson park claim progress

TUCSON - Homeless people from Veinte de Agosto Park spent the weekend fighting misconceptions about their community.

Eric Church Hall Williams said he has been sleeping at the park, occasionally finding work for a few hours at a time. He said his last paying job was Tuesday.

"35, 40 hours a week? Absolutely," he said. "Just let me know. Tell me where to be and how to be there."

Jon McLane was one of the main organizers of the Occupy Tucson movement and has adopted the "Safe Park" as his new cause. He said he is making progress, educating the community that homeless people are not lazy.

He helped the Tucson Arts Brigade clean cigarette butts and small trash items out of the grass at the park Sunday. McLane said other visitors also contribute to the problem.

"It's not about who made the mess," McLane said. "It's just a matter of it needs to get cleaned up, so we're out here to do that."

McLane helped organize an educational forum on homelessness at the Joel Valdez main library Downtown Saturday.

Imam Sidney Rahim Sharif was one of more than 100 people at the forum.

"They have their needs. They have their illnesses, and yet they're exposed to the elements at night," Sharif said. "It's hard for me to sleep in my bed wondering about people like that."

Williams said he stays at the Safe Park because it is a public place with lighting.

"At least here, there's 35 to 50 people every night," he said. "So somebody is going to see that someone did something to me, as opposed to me to being down that way and up an alley."

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