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War on the homeless heats up in Berkeley
by Lynda Carson (tenantsrule [at] yahoo.com)
Sunday Jun 24th, 2007 12:02 AM
Recently The War On Berkeley's Homeless Population Heated Up Again, As The City Is Rapidly Becoming Just Another Conservative Haven For The Wealthy!
War on the homeless heats up in Berkeley

by Lynda Carson June 23, 2007

Berkeley -- Berkeley's war on the homeless heated up recently when on June 12, it's full city council voted yes on some measures to give the police it's marching orders to sweep the city streets clean of it's homeless population.

Berkeley's Mayor Tom Bates and the downtown merchants have teamed up to get tough on the homeless in an effort to bring more business to the city, despite the fact that everyone knows that parking problems are the main obstacle to bringing shoppers to downtown Berkeley.

Cynically called the Public Commons for Everyone Initiative (except the homeless, advocates say), the latest proposals being made are an assortment of incoherent whacky punitive measures that are meant to harass the homeless out of the city of Berkeley.

More anti-homeless proposals are being scheduled to come up for another city council vote sometime soon during the fall. The proposals being considered include strict enforcement of laws against noise disturbances such as yelling, parking a bicycle against a window or on a parking meter, smoking near buildings, unauthorized possession of a milk crate, obstructing or restricting use of the sidewalk, reducing warning provisions for sitting or lying down on sidewalks, littering, hitching animals to fixed objects, unauthorized possession of a shopping cart, increased fines for using the great outdoors as a lavatory, public drunkeness or drug abuse, and anything else that city officials can dream up as an excuse to run the homeless out of town.

Currently, People’s Park bathroom which is frequented by the homeless closes at 10 pm and all other public restrooms in the city close at the same time most businesses shut down, leaving the homeless stranded without facilities throughout the night.

In return for instituting the draconian measures being proposed against the poor, the city is offering to install better directional signs to public bathrooms, raising parking meter fees and plans to install more parking meters to cover the expense of targeting the homeless for removal.

Osha Neumann is an attorney that defends the homeless in Berkeley, and has much to say about the anti-homeless proposals. "What was passed recently by the city council is a watered down commitment of laws meant to harass the homeless. They did'nt get what they wanted, but it was enough to send a message, and to give the police their marching orders to go after the homeless."

"The homeless know what is going on, they feel frightened and some are already talking about leaving town. The downtown police bike patrols get to know the homeless hot spots and get to know the homeless on a first name basis, making it very easy to target them for removal," he said. "None of this makes sense because they are talking about raising parking meter fees and installing more parking meters downtown, which will be a further obstacle to shopping in the city."

"They've cut funding for meals and drop-in services for the homeless, theres never enough shelter beds for those in need, and most people avoid shelters due to the problems associated with the stringent rules that apply."

"I believe that people need to do whatever is necessary to stop this attack on the homeless by calling city council members, writing letters, and showing up at at future city council meetings to speak out against this attack on the poor," said Neumann.

During May 2006, in a case known as Jones versus Los Angeles, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decided the 8th Amendment forbids the police from arresting the homeless on grounds of public intoxication or drug abuse, unless other contributing factors involved a misdemeanor or felony offense. In addition the ruling states, "We hold only that, just as the 8th Amendment prohibits the infliction of criminal punishment on an individual for being a drug addict, ... or for involuntary public drunkenness that is an unavoidable consequence of being a chronic alcoholic without a home, ... the 8th Amendment prohibits the City from punishing involuntary sitting, lying, or sleeping on public sidewalks that is an unavoidable consequence of being human and homeless without shelter in the City of Los Angeles."

Berkeley officials are trying to skirt the higher courts vague ruling against the Los Angeles Police Department's policies of arresting the homeless during a crackdown on quality-of-life public nuisance violations, by limiting their approach in Berkeley to only targeting homeless hotspots, rather than targeting the city as a whole.

Lydia Gans works with Food Not Bombs to feed the homeless at People's Park in Berkeley, and is very concerned. "We feed the homeless 5 days a week, and It seems that most of them are Vietnam veterans. We serve around 50 to 100 people a day, and life is hard on them. With the new proposals targeting the homeless, I think it will only add to their burdens and believe that the latest anti-homeless proposals are unconscionable.

Berkeley's housing authority has recently been shattered by funding cuts, corruption and incompetence, while in Oakland and San Francisco there are proposals to tear down much needed public housing, in the name of replacing them with higher income mixed use housing projects. Meanwhile, as the poor are being dumped from their low-income housing units and many become homeless during the process, right-wing liberals in public office follow up with more draconian policies to criminalize the growing homeless populations as fast as possible.

During March of 2006, Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies concluded that the nation is losing around 200,000 mostly low-rent housing units to demolition, while theres only around 100,000 more expensive housing units being built to replace those lost, putting the squeeze on the nation's low-income populations. “We are taking one step forward and two steps back as gentrification in some neighborhoods and continued deterioration in others leads to the removal of vitally needed lower-cost rental housing,” said Nicolas P. Retsinas, director of the Joint Center.

As the nations housing stock rapidly declines, according to the Population Division of the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. population is rapidly rising and has surpassed 302 million by 2000. In the U.S., during June of 2007 it's estimated that there is one birth every 7 seconds, one death every 13 seconds, one international migrant every 27 seconds, and a net gain of one person every 10 seconds.

As Berkeley moves towards being one of the nations meanest cities for the homeless, at last ranking according to the National Coalition for the Homeless, the top 10 meanest cities are; 1. Sarasota, Fla.- 2. Lawrence, Kan.- 3. Little Rock- 4. Atlanta- 5. Las Vegas- 6. Dallas- 7. Houston- 8. San Juan, Puerto Rico- 9. Santa Monica, Calif.- 10. Flagstaff, Ariz.

Lynda Carson may be reached at, tenantsrule [at] yahoo.com



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Clarification: 200,000 housing units lost to demolition per year!Lynda CarsonSunday Jun 24th, 2007 7:21 AM

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