The March 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee

 
 

National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website

 

 

In this issue:

Truth About Care Not Cash

Resistance to Brown's Curfew

No Millionaire Left Behind

Bush Policies Punish the Poor

Bush Rigs U.S. Society for Rich

SOS! Save Our Services

Faith Reflection on Bush Budget

Plan to End Homelessness in Ten Years

Counted Out in San Francisco

Artist Portrays Act of Giving

Berkeley Protest Demands Shelter from the Storm

Transformation of Dignity Village

George Wynn's Homeless Fiction

Poor Leonard's Almanack

Poetry of the Streets


ARCHIVES

May 2005

February 2005

 

 

 

 


 

Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

 

Berkeley Protesters Demand Shelter from the Storm

As the homeless see a great outpouring of compassion for those suffering in the terrible aftermath of the tsunami in Asia, they feel their suffering continues to be mostly ignored even in this progressive city of Berkeley.

by Michael Diehl

A group of dedicated homeless people set up a "peace camp" on Telegraph Avenue to demand that Berkeley officials open more shelters during the winter storms.

This is the story of the local tsunami that has hit those on the streets with heavy rains, police harassment, lack of public safety, cut services, and lack of the help that gets those on the streets the housing and assistance they need. As the homeless see images of a great outpouring of compassion for those suffering in the terrible aftermath of the tsunami in south Asia, the deaths of up to 200,000 in far away places like Aceh and Sri Lanka, and as they see activists protest the war on the poor people of Iraq, they feel their suffering continues to be mostly ignored even in this progressive city of Berkeley.


All of these feelings came to a head because of the urgent need for an emergency winter storm shelter in Berkeley and the need for emergency vouchers for the physically and mentally disabled. To highlight the need for shelter from the storm, a peace camp and Right to Sleep protest was held from January 24 to 26 by the Berkeley Homeless Union and the Disabled People Outside Project.


During the holidays, there had been a continual stream of winter storms. I was receiving reports that the emergency winter shelter did not open on several evenings when the torrential rains came down because St. Mark's Church was making certain nights not available to the Catholic Workers to run the shelter. At other times, the decision to open or not has to made by l0 a.m. about whether a storm will come in that evening.


When I and Danny McMullan of the Disabled People Outside Project originally pressured the city to open the emergency winter storm shelter, I expressed a concern that there be alternative sites for those nights when St. Mark's couldn't open. We also felt the need to protest the continued problem of people sleeping outside being ticketed and even jailed at Santa Rita by the Berkeley and UC police.


Our Bowditch Street protest and following Street Spirit article and the Police Review Commission hearing on homelessness had failed to halt the increased enforcement of anti-sleep ordinances we have been experiencing since last summer. [See my article in the December 2004 Street Spirit or on the website www.createpeaceathome.org, Nov. 2004 Street Report.]


Police are still confiscating the possessions of homeless people, including their sleeping gear. We decided that it was time for the Berkeley Homeless Union and the Disabled People Outside Project (concerned about those physically and mentally disabled on the streets) to do another civil disobedience protest.


We decided to stage the protest at the Telegraph and Dwight triangle due to the anti-homeless agitation from the Telegraph Area Association and neighbors in that area, resulting in higher levels of police harassment, even though these problems exist in other areas of the city. Also, there is a more conscious political desire to protest in the Southside among the homeless than in the downtown Shattuck area or other parts of Berkeley.


With reports of another storm coming in, we decided to move quickly and set up the protest camp on Monday, January 24, starting at 6 p.m. We wanted to call attention to the continued violation by the police of homeless people's right to sleep and right to have their stuff with them, including their sleeping gear. Members of the Telegraph Area Association are talking of once again trying to drive the homeless off Telegraph with a renewed push for more laws and more police action. In People's Park, the police and UC staff still are targeting the homeless there.


On Monday, January 24, there were some forecasts of impending rainstorms. I made a blue flyer with a tsunami representing what is happening to the support system for the very poor and homeless in this country, and to address the problem of Berkeley's homeless who were about to be deluged by another storm system. I put the flyer up on Telegraph Avenue and at spots where people would look to see if St. Mark's would open.


We went to the triangle at Telegraph and Dwight, and set up our canopy with plastic around the sides. We had some police encounters, requests to keep things quiet and inquiries on what we were doing, but the police basically let us be.


By 1 a.m., we had 25 people on the triangle. Keeping the noise down, and trying to prevent drinking or drug use in the triangle, was a continued problem. There was a festive party spirit that made this a bit difficult. Despite this problem, there was no more police activity until the morning.


Several participants had been in Santa Rita jail since Friday. One of them had just arrived from Michigan where, as a street youth anarchist activist, he had been thrown in a cell covered with blood where the prison guard slammed the door saying, "So you don't want to be an American." He then fled to Berkeley, only to be arrested on his first day here. Within an hour of getting back to Berkeley, he came across the peace camp, which is more what he was hoping to find here.


At 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning, two officers pulled up in a squad car, and told people it was time to get up. A Berkeley police officer started kicking two of the people on their feet to get up. When confronted on this by several people and after my explaining that this was a protest, he said people must start getting up and leave or face arrest.


By 8:00 a.m., most of the campers had left the triangle. We decided to keep the canopies up until the police returned. Some of us remained at the camp, while two people continued sleeping. Somewhat to our surprise, there were still no more police by noon.


Around 10 a.m., we had received definite weather reports that the storm would soon come in; and by 11 a.m., still no reports of St. Mark's opening, when notice usually is given. At 11:30 a.m., J. C. Orton drove by and let us know that St. Mark's would be opening after all at 7 p.m.


But the storm was imminent and we decided to stay put to provide refuge at least until then. Sure enough, by the afternoon the rain started coming in. It was coming down hard by 5 p.m., when we all moved in under the canopy and tarp.


We discussed what to do after 7 p.m. I felt it likely that most people would go to the winter shelter at St. Mark's. I had wanted to link our protest to the need for another shelter site when St. Mark's wasn't open. But we had our usual split between those who wanted to hold their ground and those, like me, who felt a bit tied down to the responsibility of the tent when I had other work I needed to get back to.


At 5:30 p.m., Officers Meredith and Turner returned. They told us that if we didn't take down the canopy and leave, we'd be arrested and the canopy would be seized. Meredith said we'd be arrested for illegal lodging (647j) and told us we were in a public park with a 10 p.m. curfew.


Later that evening, I ran into Danny McMullan again. He wanted to set up the peace camp again on Wednesday, because by now he had e-mailed the city government and the press. He felt it was important that we have a visible presence. I understood, but I had other responsibilities.


On Wednesday, January 26, I went to the Berkeley Mental Health Commission, during which I had to shut off my cell phone and thus didn't hear from Danny McMullan. After the meeting, Berkeley Mental Health Director Harvey Tureck said he was surprised I came to the BMHC since there was a big controversy going on around the Telegraph and Dwight protest, and the e-mail Danny McMullan sent. Also, the Police Review Commission was dealing with the issue of police harassment of homeless people that night, and Osha Neumann was to be there.


When I got home, I called Danny by cell phone. He was heading back to Telegraph and Dwight, and asked that I come out. I said I'd wait until he got there to see if the peace camp was still going to happen. When it did indeed happen, I loaded up my sleeping gear and some signs, and got to the triangle around 1 a.m. Danny had talked to Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates who told him to stay out tonight.


It seemed that, due to our being camped out that evening and the e-mails, a smaller, quiet group of folks were getting us concessions. City officials were seeking an alternative site for the emergency winter storm shelter on Wednesday evenings, and also getting more access to hotel vouchers for the physically disabled and sick, which had been a major focus of concern during the Bowditch protest.


Both Danny McMullan and I are seeing more physically disabled people on the streets. It seemed that we were on the verge on accomplishing the short-term goals we set for this demonstration, while also resetting our discussion with the City of the bigger goals like housing.


I was definitely feeling we would have a peaceful evening. This was not to be, for just after midnight, Berkeley police officers showed up at the camp. Once again, Officers Meredith and Turner arrived, with Officers Jackson #57, Shorter #21 and Derry #50. They told us to pack up and leave or be arrested for breaking the 10 p.m. park curfew or for illegal lodging.


We explained that the triangle is most definitely not a park so the curfew law did not apply. We had already researched this and we were holding the sleep-out here, in part, because this area is not a park.


I told Meredith that by Berkeley ordinance, we must receive two warnings prior to an arrest. The people who had sleeping bags got up and left, except John Lacey who observed the police action.


Officer Meredith asked us if we were going to take the canopies down and thus avoid arrest. Danny McMullan said no, we would not. Meredith asked who owned them. I said they were owned by the Berkeley Homeless Union, and Danny claimed ownership. Meredith asked me if they also were mine. I said yes, as a part of the Berkeley Homeless Union, they also belong to me and I take responsibility.


I again told the police they were improperly using the lodging ordinance, as this was my second warning but only Danny's first; but added that if they were going to arrest us, I would take the arrest.


One of the more reasonable officers told me we did not have to do this, and advised it was better to work in more official channels. I said it had been my experience over many years that this sort of action was necessary to get the City to make changes, and that I already had used all channels available, and been to many meetings.


Danny and I were expecting to be arrested. Danny was refusing to take the citation, probably to assure the arrest. I said that I would take the citation, as I had advised so many others, and was doing so because I wanted to challenge it. I said to one of the participants that I wanted to be arrested because that might get the local papers to actually cover the issue.


Meredith then told us they weren't going to take us to jail. They rode off with our canopies in one of their squad cars. While the canopies were being taken down, one of the officers warned John Lacey that, by his talking, he might get taken in as well. Lacey told me afterwards that was his intention, being an active member of the Berkeley Homeless Union.


On February 1, after e-mails by Danny McMullan to city government officials and the press, and after it was obvious we were preparing a legal defense with Osha Neumann, Mark Davey and others, the district attorney decided to drop the citation "for now" and dropped the court date at the Oakland courthouse -- thereby nipping in the bud our plans to organize a bigger protest under the rubric of the United Homeless Front. We had hopes that our political allies would be willing to give the kind of support I have given many other activists over the years. I was preparing to call in my chits.


The arrests have helped further activate both the Berkeley Homeless Union and activism around People's Park, so thank you, Berkeley Police Department. Now I am able to charge up my political base prior to the coming budget battles and the spring offensive that the BOSS Community Organizing Team knows are just ahead. We need to be laying the plans and groundwork for that now.


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