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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: East Bay | Health, Housing, and Public Services
Berkeley Listed As 10th Meanest City In U.S.A. For The Homeless!
On July 15, 2009 the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty listed Berkeley as the 10th meanest city across the nation for the homeless to reside in!
---The Mean Streets of Berkeley---
National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty
Current rankings of 'Top Ten Meanest Cities' for the homeless to reside in, as of July 15, 2009.
1) Los Angeles
2) St. Petersburg, Fla.
3) Orlando, Fla.
5) Gainesville, Fla.
6) Kalamazoo, Mich.
7) San Francisco
9) Bradenton, Fla.
10) Berkeley, Calif.
Read more below about Berkeley's descent into one of meanest cities to reside in, for the homeless...
(Published in San Francisco Bay View Newspaper on June 26, 2007)
War on the homeless heats up in Berkeley
by Lynda Carson
Tuesday, 26 June 2007
Berkeley – Berkeley’s war on the homeless heated up June 12 when its full City Council voted yes on some measures giving marching orders to the police to sweep homeless people off the streets of Berkeley.
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 common knowledge that parking problems are the main obstacle to bringing shoppers to downtown Berkeley.
Cynically called the “Public Commons for Everyone Initiative” – “except the homeless,” they and their advocates say – these latest proposals are an assortment of incoherent, wacky, punitive measures that are meant to harass the homeless out of Berkeley.
According to Berkeley City Councilman Kris Worthington, Roland Peterson was behind the initiative against the homeless, and Councilman Gordon Wozniac was originally going to take credit for it as his own proposal. “As it turned out, they felt that Wozniac was too right-wing to get enough support for the initiative, so they decided to let Mayor Tom Bates run with it,” said Worthington.
Roland Peterson is executive director of the Telegraph Business Improvement District and chairman of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce.
“This was a victory, because they did not get everything they wanted. No new laws have been passed yet. We stalled them until the end of the year, and if enough people step forward to speak out against these proposals, we might be able to stop them from going all the way with these attacks against the homeless,” said Worthington.
More anti-homeless proposals are being scheduled to come up for another City Council vote sometime this fall. They include strict enforcement of laws against noise disturbances such as yelling, parking a bicycle against a window or a parking meter, smoking near buildings, unauthorized possession of a milk crate, obstructing or restricting use of the sidewalk, 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, and public drunkenness or drug abuse.
Currently, the People’s Park bathroom that is frequented by the homeless closes at 10 p.m. 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.
To mitigate the harm of these draconian measures against the poor, the city is offering to install better directional signs to public bathrooms. And to cover the expense of targeting the homeless for removal, it is raising parking meter fees and installing more meters.
Osha Neumann, an attorney who defends the homeless in Berkeley, has much to say about the anti-homeless proposals: “What was passed recently by the City Council is a watered down commitment to laws meant to harass the homeless. They didn’t 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, there’s 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 future City Council meetings to speak out against this attack on the poor,” said Neumann.
During May 2006, in a case known as Jones vs. 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 involve a misdemeanor or felony offense. 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.”
By targeting homeless hotspots, rather than targeting the city as a whole, Berkeley officials are trying to skirt this appeal court ruling against the Los Angeles Police Department’s policy of arresting the homeless during a crackdown on quality-of-life public nuisance violations.
Lydia Gans, who works with Food Not Bombs to feed the homeless at People’s Park in Berkeley, is very concerned. “We feed the homeless five 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. I 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 priced “mixed-income” housing. Meanwhile, as the poor are dumped from their low-income housing and many become homeless in the process, right-wing “liberals” in public office follow up with policies to criminalize and drive out the growing homeless populations as fast as possible.
In 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 per year, while only around 100,000 more expensive housing units are being built to replace those lost, putting the squeeze on the nation’s poor. “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 nation’s housing stock rapidly declines, according to the Population Division of the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. population is rapidly rising and surpassed 302 million in 2000. In the U.S. in June of 2007, it’s estimated that there is one birth every seven 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 nation’s 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., and 10. Flagstaff, Ariz.
Lynda Carson may be reached at tenantsrule [at] yahoo.com.