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Religious Leaders Speak Out Against Berkeley’s Measure S

Measure S is unjust and violates our spiritual call to seek justice. This harsh approach to dealing with the extreme difficulties people face during this painful economic period is ill-timed and cruel. As clergy and religious leaders, we could never condone this approach to “kicking someone when they are down.”

“They Who Have Little Are Thought To Have No Right To Anything.” Art by David Adams


To All Those Concerned:

As Berkeley and Bay Area clergy and religious leaders of diverse faith traditions, we stand lovingly and firmly united in opposition to the November 2012 ballot initiative in Berkeley, “Measure S,” making it illegal to sit on commercial area sidewalks in our community. As we describe in this letter, we do so through our shared, deeply held religious convictions calling us to compassion, justice and stewardship of resources.

Measure S violates our deep conviction to express compassion for all living beings.

We share a deep commitment to seeing and respecting the wonder of humanity in each of our brothers and sisters daily through the choices we make and the action we take to honor the dignity of these neighbors. Thus, of course, we oppose the criminalization of homeless people. We believe that Measure S will, without question, increase ticketing and arresting of homeless people. We cannot support this approach to solving the problems of homelessness because it is demeaning and damaging to people’s confidence and self-esteem.

We are concerned that an indirect impact of this law will be that in order to make commercial areas “more civil,” homeless people will be shuffled from one street corner to another, by threats of receiving citations, a practice that is cruel, when the deeper needs of these individuals for shelter, housing, jobs and other resources remain inadequately addressed.

We cringe at the insensitivity that this “clampdown” on the rights of poor people comes during what is still the worst economic recession in 80 years in our country. We believe this harsh approach to dealing with the extreme difficulties people face during this very painful economic period is both ill-timed and, additionally, cruel. As clergy and religious leaders, we could never condone this approach to “kicking someone when they are down.”

Measure S is unjust and violates our shared spiritual call to seek justice.

All of the great religions of the world ultimately call on believers to seek justice. As religious leaders, we need look no further than, for example, Scripture such as Micah 6:8, Luke 10:30-37, or the Qur’an Sura 4: 135-136 to be reminded of this.

By making it illegal to sit on the sidewalk in commercial areas, Measure S almost certainly guarantees unequal enforcement of the law. If a non-homeless person sits on the sidewalk, what are the chances that person will be “moved along” with the threat of a ticket? Virtually none! In this way, passing a law that will be selectively enforced is not right in our view!

Additionally, related to adult homeless services, regardless of what dollar amount the City of Berkeley spends cumulatively on resources for homeless people, we know Berkeley still has a huge shortage of daily shelter beds, a dramatic shortage of permanent affordable housing units, and long-wait lists for existing housing programs, as well as long waiting lists for securing case management, and no in-patient detox program for people struggling with addiction. So punishing anyone who has failed to get off the streets would be difficult to justify.

If Berkeley did have adequate resources available to serve chronically homeless adults, we believe veteran social workers or street chaplains building long-term relationships of trust will still have much better results for getting hard-to-reach homeless people into services — than police or less committed outreach people threatening tickets.

Related to homeless youth programs, we are aware that despite there being an estimated average of 400 youth homeless (ages 16-24) on any given night (counting couch-surfing young people) our community still has utterly inadequate services.

Berkeley has no drop-in program for homeless youth, and therefore no place for homeless young people to go during the day. The City has a total of 35 temporary youth shelter beds, six months a year, and in winter, the YEAH Shelter is open from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. Additionally, Berkeley has a total of 18 units (beds) of permanent youth housing and 16 units of transitional housing. There is a huge waitlist for homeless youth case management. How could we possibly punish youth who are homeless, instead of focusing our energy on creating a real community safety net for these vulnerable young people?

Thus, with the lack of adequate services for homeless adults and youth in our community, our commitment to the pursuit of justice as religious leaders compels us to support the continued hard work of creating desperately needed programs serving and empowering homeless people, particularly youth. These, fundamental resource inadequacies certainly make it unjust to penalize homeless people for sitting on the sidewalk!

Measure S demonstrates poor stewardship of resources, violating our shared faith commitment to cherish & love the earth.

In these difficult economic times, we need to focus carefully on the way we use our precious resources of time, energy and money so that what we do is efficient and will demonstrate results. As clergy and religious leaders, we believe Measure S poorly uses police resources, resources of the courts and the legal system, taxpayer dollars, and valuable community energy and time.

Police resources are wasted through Measure S since law enforcement is already stretched thin dealing with major community problems, like homicides, domestic violence and other truly urgent matters. We believe it is poor stewardship to divert police attention from these areas of need.

Measure S additionally demonstrates poor stewardship since it creates a new, unneeded law, when Berkeley already has twelve good laws that can be used by the police to ensure safe and clean commercial areas and appropriate behavior by all individuals on the sidewalks.

“No sitting” laws in San Francisco have already been found by researchers to be ineffective in meeting the goals of creating more civil common areas. Therefore, since Measure S will likely also prove to be ineffective, its passage serves as a waste of taxpayer dollars, which could better be spent on real solutions to the problems of homelessness.

For all of these reasons, we strongly oppose Measure S. With the enormous needs of homeless and underserved people in Berkeley, we challenge all those who care deeply about poverty to instead direct all available energy, creativity and resources to the real solutions that have been found to work in solving the problems of homelessness: permanent affordable housing, adequate emergency shelter, jobs and jobs training, drug and alcohol treatment programs and case management support — among these!


The undersigned religious leaders


List of Signers of Clergy Letter Opposing Measure S*

Rev. Dr. Israel Alvaran
National Organizer for Economic Justice
General Board of Church and Society
The United Methodist Church

Fr. Rigoberto Calocarivas, OFM, Ph.D.

Rev. Alexandra Childs
United Church of Christ Traveling Minister of the Arts

Rev. Susan P. Conrad, MA, M.Div.
Chaplain and ACPE Associate Supervisor
Chaplaincy Services
Alta Bates Summit Medical Center

Rabbi David J. Cooper
Kehilla Community Synagogue

Rev. Mark C. Cordes
Trinity United Methodist Church

Rev. Kevin Craddock
Ebenezer Baptist Church

Denisha Delane
Founder, Faith in the Bay
Deacon, McGee Avenue Baptist Church

Father John Dineen, Pastor
St. Joseph the Worker Church

Rev. Bill Hamilton-Holway
Rev. Barbara Hamilton-Holway
Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley

Sally Hindman, MA, M.Div.
Executive Director
Youth Spirit Artworks

Pastor Sarah Isakson
Lutheran Church of the Cross

Rev. Kurt A. Kuhwald
Assistant Professor, Core Faculty
Starr King School for the Ministry

Laura Magnani
Assistant Regional Director, West Region
American Friends Service Committee

Father Aidan McAleenan
Pastor, St. Columba Catholic Church

Terry Messman
Street Spirit, Editor
American Friends Service Committee

Rev. Bob Matthews
United Church of Christ

Rev. Ben Meyers
Minister, Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists

Rev. Sarah Moldenhauer-Salazar
President, Pacific District Unitarian Universalists Association

Carolyn S. Scarr
Program Coordinator, Ecumenical Peace Institute/Clergy and Laity Concerned

Rev. Hozan Alan Senauke
Berkeley Zen Center

Rev. Michael A. Smith, Pastor
McGee Avenue Baptist Church

Rabbi Andrew Straus
Temple Sinai Oakland

Rev. Roland Stringfellow
Co-Pastor, First Congregational Church of Oakland
Director of Ministerial Outreach, Pacific School of Religion

Rev. Frederick Taylor, Pastor
Phillips Temple CME Church

Frances H. Townes
Founder, Berkeley Ecumenical Chaplaincy to the Homeless

Rhonda White-Warner, M.Div.
African American Faith Mental Health Anti-Stigma Campaign/Healthy Communities

Brian Young, Pastor
Berkeley Friends Church

*Persons listed are representing themselves as individuals, not necessarily the institutions with which they are affiliated.

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