WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - The old City Hall has a new role: home to Occupy Palm Beach.
On Friday, city officials strung yellow caution tape around a concrete patio outside the abandoned building and unveiled the new location to demonstrators who have turned a nearby city-owned lot into an urban campground.
"We're thrilled," said Steve Ellman, a local activist who is working with the protestors.
"Like the rest of the 99 percent, we're happy to have a home," he said, using the slogan popularized by a group that began in October with Occupy Wall Street and quickly inspired imitators across the country.
Ironically, the local permutation of the group, that is pushing to change policies that they say unfairly benefit the wealthy 1 percent, has to leave its original home to make way for a former circus performer who rented the site to offer trapeze classes at $90 a pop.
Those who live in the roughly 20 tents said they knew about the trapeze school for weeks. They worried that like their counterparts elsewhere in the country, they would be forced to leave the tent city to go back home or, in some cases, return to the streets.
In recent weeks, numerous cities, including New York, have evicted members of the Occupy movement from parks and other public spaces. There have been bloody clashes with police, arrests and ugly recriminations.
But, in West Palm Beach, officials have cooperated.
"As long as they remain peaceful and continue to point out what they believe is wrong with our financial system I think they should have that opportunity," said Commissioner Bill Moss.
While some of those living in the encampment are homeless, he said the welcome the city has shown doesn't conflict with past policies. Two years ago, commissioners enacted a law, banning free food giveaways downtown, and sued two groups that refused to abide by it.
Moss said the law and lawsuit were fueled by complaints from families and business owners. Ultimately, commissioners settled the lawsuit by repealing the law.
Since then, the feedings have continued. And, he said, like the encampment, no problems have occurred.
Occupy members said they are occasionally jeered at. "Get a job," people have yelled from car windows. But, they said, the vast majority support their cause.
Those who are homeless said they are victims of the economic policies they are trying to change. Further, while they said they are looking for work, as demonstrator Jennifer Hayes, 27, said, it's difficult without an address, a phone or a place to shower to prepare for a job interview.
The City Hall site will give them a welcome amenity: running water. The group already had electricity from roughly 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m., after city crews ran a line into the encampment from a nearby street lamp. They have the keys to nearby public restrooms. The city, said demonstrator Brien Hurley, has been great.
The group will spend most of the weekend moving the tents, tables, chairs, microwave ovens, coffee-makers and other stuff they have accumulated over the last seven weeks to the new site, Hurley said.
Moss said they can stay as long as they want to. At least, he said, until the city's two-year-old efforts to sell the property are successful.
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