New Shelter System — and New Attacks on Berkeley’s Homeless

Under Mayor Tom Bates, Berkeley has become more conservative in its social policies, and much more intolerant towards homeless people. Mayor Bates and some City Council members have tried repeatedly to criminalize homelessness. As a result, people on the streets have been under attack repeatedly in recent years.

by Lynda Carson

The Homeless Crisis Resolution Center (HCRC) opened its doors in Berkeley on January 5, 2016, and the service provider may prove to be more helpful to those who need services the most, rather than only benefiting those who are most clever at getting services.

Homeless persons may register at 1901 Fairview Street in Berkeley to seek shelter, or call 866-960-2132, or they may be allowed to register on the streets with the help of an outreach team. There are 122 beds in this program, and if space is available, homeless persons can register with HCRC, and will be given directions to find a bed for the night.

Also, during storms, the homeless people may call 510-684-1892 to seek shelter from the storm.

In the old system, homeless people used to go from one shelter to another, hoping for the best, until they were lucky enough to find a bed, if one was even available. It was no easy task to find a bed at night, especially for disabled persons and those without a vehicle to get around.

Though this new system still lacks enough housing for all the homeless people, HCRC may be able to provide “shelter plus care vouchers” to some of the homeless who are disabled. The vouchers may be used to subsidize their housing.

However, many of the greedy landlords do not accept them in Berkeley anymore, because market-rate rents are so high at present. In a recent rent study, Berkeley was listed as having the sixth highest rents in California. Rent hikes in California have outpaced the national average during every month of 2015, according to ApartmentList.com.

Homeless persons may also access the services provided by HCRC even if they choose to not stay in shelters in Berkeley.

East Bay Food Not Bombs

Free meals are served by East Bay Food Not Bombs at Peoples Park five days a week around 3:00 p.m., near Dwight Way and Telegraph Avenue.

Lydia Gans is a longtime member of East Bay Food Not Bombs, and said: “Things are very bad for the homeless presently, because they keep passing laws to criminalize the homeless. But people still keep trying to help the homeless out. There is JC Orton out there helping the homeless, and he runs a shelter with 65 beds for emergencies.”

Gans went on to describe the many meals provided by East Bay Food Not Bombs, week in and week out. She said, “We are feeding around 85 to 100 people five days a week at People’s Park. At the end of the month we are feeding more people daily, as they run out of money. It is mostly older men that we are feeding, and we believe many of them are veterans.

“We serve vegetarian food, including fruit, salads, and plenty of rice and beans. It is all good basic food. The people know the food is good for them, and from time to time we give them sandwiches also, with some good fruit juice.”

Food Not Bombs not only serves in Berkeley, but also serves food in Oakland, she said.

“We serve food on Sundays to the homeless at 3:00 p.m. in front of the Sutter Hotel in Oakland. We give food away also on Thursdays in front of the Recycling Center in Oakland at Peralta and 31st Street. We also provide food at various demonstrations and protests in the Bay Area. There are around 40 to 50 people involved with East Bay Food Not Bombs.”

Berkeley’s growing intolerance

There is a growing intolerance towards homeless people in Berkeley. Under Mayor Tom Bates, the city has become much more conservative in its social policies, and Mayor Bates and some of the City Council members have tried to criminalize homeless people. As a result, people on the streets have been under attack repeatedly in recent years.

Most recently, in November and December of 2015, the City Council passed a series of measures to address the concerns of the Chamber of Commerce and the commercial business interests that want to run the homeless out of Berkeley.

 

DBA Ambassador literally tries to sweep away homeless people in downtown Berkeley, and then orders the homeless men to leave the area. Carol Denney photo

DBA Ambassador literally tries to sweep away homeless people in downtown Berkeley, and then orders the homeless men to leave the area. Carol Denney photo

 

The City Council passed an ordinance on December 1, 2015, that requires homeless persons on the street or plazas to confine all of their belongings to a two-by-two-foot area between 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. People with shopping carts have also been targeted.

They can only leave their shopping carts in one spot for an hour at a time, from 7:00 a.m. until 10:00 p.m., or they face the risk of receiving a citation for an infraction. Dragging poor people into court for small infractions is just one of the ways the homeless have been targeted and criminalized. The penalties can become serious burdens, especially if they miss a court appearance.

Downtown Berkeley Association

John Caner, the CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association, has been attacking the homeless community, and has opposed more bathrooms downtown for them. Meanwhile, the City has failed to maintain the existing public bathrooms, which are often closed. Members of the City Council used this issue to publicly denigrate homeless people for urinating and defecating on the streets, because there are not enough bathrooms available.

Homeless people are being set up by the powers that be. Not only are they criminalized due to the lack of public bathrooms, but the City Council then used that as a wedge issue to deepen public hostility towards them.

The homeless are also under attack by City Councilmember Linda Maio, who recently accused them of leaving human feces, condoms, bedding, trash, needles, and empty alcohol bottles in the parks.

The Street Spirit newspaper, directed by Terry Messman, and supported by the American Friends Service Committee, is also available in Berkeley to assist the homeless. Homeless persons are allowed to get as many as 50 newspapers a day, and then can sell them for $1 dollar each, and keep all the money they earn, to spend as they please. The Suitcase Clinic is also available in Berkeley to assist the poor and homeless with their needs, in a friendly environment.

With the ongoing attacks on homeless people, and these repeated efforts to criminalize them and run them out of town, it appears that the days when they could relax in city parks without the cops harassing them are long gone.

It also used to be safe for the homeless working poor to camp out up in the hills above the university for the night, due to a lack of shelter beds in Berkeley, but those days may also be long gone.

The homeless people should be allowed to exist in Berkeley, without fear of being harassed by the cops, just because they have nowhere else to hang out, due to being priced out of the crazy housing market.

A Life Consecrated to Compassion and Justice

On the bleak streets of the Tenderloin, a sister took a stand against inhumanity. Her solidarity was inspired by the beatitudes and consecrated to the poor.

The Invisible Natural Cathedral of People’s Park

Builders, please go away. Allow the beauty of an Invisible Natural Cathedral to remain, a living shrine of open space that gives refuge to all people.

Street Spirit Interview with Sister Bernie Galvin

This atrocity was happening in a very wealthy city. It was happening right under our noses. It was very visible. And there was not the united voice of the faith community speaking out. That was the spark of Religious Witness. From that moment, I knew what I had to do.

Interview with Sister Bernie Galvin, Part Two

“What’s forming in my mind is Jesus in the temple when he became angry at the unjust and very exclusive systems of society. That is the very reason that there are the poor and the marginalized. It is not enough just to provide food, clothing and housing.”

‘Such Is the Magic and Spirit of People’s Park’

The mayor has no understanding of the awful defeat the loss of People’s Park would be. No comprehension of the cost in lives and the sacrifices people have made for the Park’s ideals. So many still find it a refuge in a country needing a political and spiritual overhaul.

I Remember Who I Am

“And Now Where?” Lithograph by Rockwell Kent

By and by, I calm down. I meditate. I pray. It is a beautiful day. The sun is setting. I weave my way toward the spot where I sleep, where nobody knows where to find me. I look to the stars, and say my prayers to the God who believes in Me.