Cost-Free Improvements for the Pathways Project

Berkeley’s public was tired of paying for the destruction of poor people’s tents decades ago, let alone picking up the tab for circling them through courts and jails. Criminalizing people with nowhere to go is unethical, expensive, a ridiculous assault on the dignity of everybody involved, and a civil rights violation.

by Carol Denney

The “Pathways Project,” Berkeley’s proposal to address homelessness, has some obvious faults. But one thing is clear. If we snapped our fingers and manifested this system of temporary shelters overnight, we would only address approximately 15 percent of the people on our streets, by the city’s own numbers.

The other 85 percent are still at risk of being repeatedly moved, ticketed, and jailed for simply being poor.

There are things Berkeley can do immediately that won’t cost a dime. We need to demand that the Pathways Project includes the following improvements.

  1. Stop the raids on tent groups. The Pathways Project proposal insists that “camping” laws will still be used to clear groups of tents from unpermitted places after “robust” outreach. This needs to end.

Criminalizing people with nowhere to go is unethical, a ridiculous assault on the dignity of everybody involved, including the police, a civil rights violation according to many legal decisions, and (a politician’s most persuasive factor) expensive.

Berkeley’s public was tired of paying for the public destruction of poor people’s tents decades ago, let alone picking up the tab for circling them through courts and jails. Maybe you can persuade the ten percent of Berkeley’s unhoused poor people to utilize the new Pathways Project opportunities when they manifest. But until then, it is unfair to ticket the ninety percent left over for simply existing.

Cost? Zero.

  1. Legalize sleeping in one’s own vehicle. It is absurd, not to mention dangerous, that homeless and poor people who at least have a personal vehicle to sleep in can be ticketed for simply sleeping inside it on a public street. We may not have made sleep itself a crime, as has Santa Cruz, but we’ve come close by insisting that people can’t legally sleep in their own property if it happens to have wheels.

Cost? Zero.

  1. Facilitate port-a-potties and garbage services for tent groups that want them. The majority of objections to even out-of-the-way collections of tents have to do with unsanitary conditions made almost inevitable by the lack of bathrooms and garbage pickup services.

It is true that portable amenities cost money; but not as much as having to send hazmat teams and police in after conditions become filthy. Generous citizens have in some cases paid privately for port-a-potties for groups of tents and been threatened by city staff for their trouble.

Cost? Not zero, but less than what we’re spending now.

  1. Vacate all laws that target the poor and homeless. The new City Council booted the two square foot law, if I’m tracking correctly. But Berkeley is among California’s top cities for anti-homeless laws. The council needs to commit to eliminating them all.

Cost? Zero.

  1. Commit to realistic mental health options. The $300,000 just spent on Robust Outreach Teams (admit you love the acronym) still leads straight to the police, the worst-equipped group on earth to address mental health issues, which currently take up a huge percentage of police resources. We have the policy clarity throughout the commission system and at the Public Health Department. We need the political commitment to offer more realistic options to situate people who will only suffer more in jail.

Cost? Again, not cost free, but a cost saving in the long run compared to what we’re spending in repeatedly sending people with mental health issues through courts and jails, where their health inevitably deteriorates even more.

  1. Require the Downtown Berkeley Association (DBA) to step up to the plate. More than a million dollars in property-based fees goes to the DBA’s budget for downtown promotion, which has worked for decades not to take practical steps to end homelessness — that would be housing — but rather to criminalize homeless and poor people’s visible existence on our streets.

The DBA’s current director, John Caner, ran the expensive campaign to criminalize sitting in Berkeley, violating campaign finance laws along the way, and has sat with both city staff and council representatives in back rooms helping craft anti-homeless laws, according to their own records.

The bulk of their budget comes from publicly owned property — owned by the city, the UC, or other public entities within their business improvement district footprint. That means that when the DBA lobbies the city for civil rights violations tailored to dog the lives of our most vulnerable, the public is paying for it on the front and the back end.

Mayor Jesse Arreguin and the City Council are in a position to ensure that the DBA’s next campaign be more practical, more consonant with the recognition that circling people through the courts is not working, and is the costliest approach to homelessness, substance abuse, and mental illness. The DBA is in a position to create a team within the business community to create housing and job options open to people in need.

We need housing options for people with mental illness which aren’t just a pathway back to the streets. We need housing for people making the minimum wage. We need, as a community, to leverage the suffering that the DBA’s and the city’s short-sightedness has caused for decades into a real partnership to help meet community needs — as well as a requirement for continuing any DBA contract.

If our new mayor and city council are more than just “Bates lite,” they will ensure that these practical, cost-free elements are added to the Pathways Project. Berkeley needs to make sure that chasing homeless people from lawn to lawn and park to park becomes a thing of the past.

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin and Councilmember Sophie Hahn at the press conference for the Pathways Project on March 16, 2017. Photo by Carol Denney

 

Hate Man and the War on Eccentricity

Those lucky enough to have known Hate Man are sad to lose him, but will forever see him on our streets and in our Park, and will recall the strange, gentle power of a philosopher.

by Carol Denney

There comes a point in a local’s life in Berkeley where you go to People’s Park and you stop looking for a spectacle, a particular vision of all it has stood for over the decades, and begin instead to look for who is there.

The tourists often look for a museum experience that will quickly summarize the sixties so they can go shopping. University of California officials are looking for evidence that the sixties are still there so they can start another development machine. City representatives usually hope to minimize their connection to the park so they can get re-elected.

But park-connected people look for the people which, as much as the weather on a particular day, will predict the likelihood of some really good music, some rocking stories, a couple of good arguments and jokes. There might be an old friend you met in a holding cell you can borrow a couple bucks from or pay back.

And, usually, there was Hate Man.

Born Mark Hawthorne, Hate Man was, among many things, a philosopher who encouraged people to confront negative feelings in themselves and others, which he saw as more honest.

He was articulate, educated, and gentle. He usually dressed in creative attire unusual even for Berkeley’s streets, which, like his philosophy, gave gentle permission to others to stretch their ideas of their own expression.

The University of California’s animosity toward eccentricity was by no means limited to Hate Man, but one of the best illustrations of this paranoia still exists in their “People’s Park Rules,” which go so far as to specifically criminalize baby strollers unless they carried a baby.

That was aimed at Hate Man, and the strange, gentle power of a philosopher who was continually forced into court — the City of Berkeley’s and the University of California’s preferred territory for battle.

Since the block between Haste, Dwight, Bowditch, and Telegraph — a rowdy, explosive block of ungoverned culture, mostly in shared houses — was bulldozed in 1967, the UC Berkeley administration has torn its hair out trying to quell that culture and the concomitant gentle warriors who carry it with them in their smiles, their pace, and their willingness to greet the National Guard with flowers.

Hate Man’s embrace of “oppositionality” oddly fit right into this strange revolution, an oddly quiet revolution unless certain people were behind the faders. But then, if you know the people behind the faders you can have an effect on that, too.

Today, the City of Berkeley’s “Pathways Project” continues in a decades-old parade of fallacies: that you need freshly built buildings to address housing needs, that only carefully “vetted” people deserve a roof, and that our eccentrics are a threat.

Those lucky enough to have known Hate Man are sad to lose him, but will forever see him on our streets and in our Park, and loosen their constricted expectations of others and themselves.

And maybe bring a baby stroller. Nothing is funnier than the poor police officer who tries to explain what is wrong with that.

Berkeley shelter closes

The closure of the largest homeless shelter in Berkeley leaves many with nowhere to go

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