On Tuesday March 17th, the Berkeley City Council voted to direct staff to review and move forward with laws that target homeless people by prohibiting their ability to sit, keep belongings, and use bedding in public spaces downtown. The 6-3 Council vote on the proposal was preceded by more than an hour of public testimony, mostly speaking against the proposed laws on the grounds that they will not in any way address the root causes of homelessness.
BOSS strongly opposes these measures, which will result in homeless youth and adults being fined for activities on public streets – fines they cannot afford to pay and which can then result in arrest warrants being issued which impair their ability to find housing or jobs. We believe existing laws can and should be used to redress unlawful behavior, and that sitting or keeping personal items in tree wells, panhandling close to parking meters, or laying bedding down if one does not have a home to sleep in should not be criminalized. To address the underlying causes of street homelessness Berkeley needs more housing that is affordable for the very poor, drop-in space for homeless and runaway youth, and more mental health and street outreach services.
Significantly, the measure expresses one-way concern for the downtown community, asking for a survey of local businesses to determine whether enforcement is adequate while not calling for a survey of homeless people to determine if harassment or citations have increased.
BOSS participants and staff have been part of statewide organizing for passage of the #RighttoRest bill (SB 608) which would protect homeless people’s right to rest and sleep in public spaces, and which would hopefully nullify the Berkeley measures. To get involved in civil rights organizing, contact Gwen Austin at (510) 649-1930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo from Berkeleyside.com.