Council member Jesse Arreguin had created a set of 16 alternative provisions designed to actually address the problems of the homeless and the problem of homelessness, but they were given short shrift. The attempt to merge Arreguin's suggestions into the resolution, as suggested by the City Administrator, and refer the package to the Homelessness Task Force as well as the City Administrator, as at least two City Councilors who voted aye on the measure said they were in favor of, were stymied by the Mayor's heavy-handed, last second refusal to take the necessary parliamentary steps to execute that wish or to recognize Councilpeople who wished to continue debate.
Rallying in front of City Hall against criminalization of the homeless.
In 2012 Berkeley defeated Measure S, a sit-and-lie proposal create by the downtown business association which hoped that it would
shoo homeless people away from the city's main commercial districts.
Those who defeated it hoped that would be the end of attempts to criminalize homelessness, especially with the increasing awareness of the cruelty and futility of such laws. Since then the economy has improved, but paradoxically the number of homeless people in Berkeley's commericial centers seems to have increased. This has created scenes, especially along Berkeley's main downtown street Shattuck Avenue, that some find distasteful, and inevitably caused a higher rate of incidents with mentally disturbed people - who may or may not be homeless - which frighten and threaten downtown pedestrians. Inevitably, the call went out: Something, however misguided and callous, "had to be done."
Not only did the measure pass, but the Council metaphorically face-slapped the Berkeley Homeless Task Force, created by the City Council itself, which is supposed to provide recommendations to the City Council on homeless policy on April 20th, 2015. Thus we are left with a measure that instructs the City Administrator to create and implement ordinances which criminalize those who are homeless, but which fails to address the complaints that businesses and downtown visitors have while doing nothing to help the homeless.
Speaking out against the City Council's proposed measures.
Some of the proposed measures seem reasonable at first glance, until we understand their purpose: having been thwarted two years ago, "Something has to be done" advocates created an end-run effort proposal to make the homeless disappear: out of sight, out of mind; to fob off responsibility onto someone else (the police, the County), so that the City need not expend additional resources.
Yet constitutional challenges, referenda, and civil liability claims caused by police brutality may far outcost what the City thinks it might benefit via the attempted banishment of homeless from its streets.
Business leaders came to the Council to complain of people being spit upon, threatened, and insulted. Yet no money was allocated for increased mental services and support. People complained that urine and feces appear on sidewalks, alleys and doorways, yet no provision to insure that public bathrooms are available and accessible 24 hours a day was included. Complaints were made that the homeless leave their personal belongings on the sidewalk (as if they had another place to put them), yet no provision to provide storage lockers was given consideration. People complain that the homeless themselves take up space on the sidewalks, yet it was pointed out in public testimony that the City has removed public benches and refuses to consider putting them back so that there are more places to sit. And of course no money for additional housing to shelter the otherwise homeless was debated.
We are left with Berkeley, a city some associate with tolerance, being one of three cities to soon have the largest number of anti-homeless ordinances in the state (this according to one of the UC Professors who testified).
Perhaps it is time for Berkeley's people to declare war on the City Council.
Top three photos via First They Came for the Homeless.