The homeless need attention

The failure of Measure S means there is more work to be done

Once again, we are the margin of victory. Despite what people said about young voters losing enthusiasm and the 2008 election being a fluke, we have again defied expectations and turned out in even higher numbers. From the passage of Proposition 30 to re-electing President Barack Obama, our voices were heard, and we were the difference.

The impact of young voters was even felt locally in Berkeley, where Measure S has now been defeated. Measure S, the controversial proposal that would have criminalized sitting on commercial sidewalks during certain hours, was initially leading with an estimated 58 percent of yes votes when early absentee ballots were posted on election night. However, that lead quickly evaporated as the counting continued. I believe the student community played a significant role in the defeat of Measure S.

Though the defeat of Measure S was the right step, it does not mean that we should call it a day on the very important issue of homelessness. In fact, if there was one good thing that came out of this misguided measure, it was that it started a conversation — one that was sorely needed as homelessness continues to be a significant problem. Now that the campaign is over, we are presented with a unique opportunity to come together as a community to explore how to effectively address homelessness in Berkeley.

I represent the Downtown on Berkeley City Council, and as I walk streets every day, I see firsthand the unacceptable situation of homelessness: It’s an issue we can no longer ignore. I also sometimes see people engaged in inappropriate behavior or obstructing sidewalks. That is something we also need to address. Our Downtown and commercial districts need to be inviting to everyone, but that should not come using a heavy hand guised as a helping hand.

That is why I didn’t just oppose Measure S but tried to put forward an alternative proposal and urged council, to no avail, to give the issue the full consideration that it deserved before committing to any approach.

As we continue this conversation, however, it’s important to note how not to approach the complex issue of homelessness. Measure S was hastily put on the ballot by council without consultation with stakeholders, without any data or research and without considering any alternatives. Needless to say, even the Obama administration cautioned us against such measures attempting to cope with the rising homeless populations due to the economy.

As we go forward genuinely addressing homelessness, we need to acknowledge a few things to make sure we start on the right foot:
Sometimes, solutions aren’t so simple. Critical and creative thinking coupled with thorough research is integral to finding any successful solution.

Homelessness’s relationship to economic decline has been documented through countless studies and academic literature as indicative — not causal.

Homelessness is the problem, not homeless people themselves — accountability is better applied to conduct, not condition.
That homelessness is a choice is an insidious myth. Any consideration of the issue demands an honest understanding of the demographics and underpinnings of homelessness. For one example, 1 in 2 foster youth in Alameda County will experience homelessness within their first year of emancipation. A common thread among youth homelessness stems from backgrounds involving instability or abuse.

We do not have enough shelter beds to accommodate our homeless. The $26,000 spent by council to put Measure S on the ballot and the more than $100,000 spent supporting Measure S could have provided enough shelter beds, reopened the Youth Shelter yearlong and bolstered many needed services.

We cannot throw money at the problem. We will need to make our current services more efficient, effective and outcome-oriented by identifying service overlap and gaps. We will also need to identify the necessary funds to address homelessness. The council can start with the surplus funds in our council office budgets that are not necessary to maintain an office.
We have existing laws, such as laws prohibiting obstructing sidewalks, that can and should be enforced. We need to look at existing laws and engage with our police department about enforcement, necessary resources and prioritization.

It’s time to do it right: We need to engage the community and all stakeholders, including, but not limited to, service providers, academics, police officers, merchants, students and homeless individuals themselves.

Our voices matter, and we have shown that time and again. Let’s use our voices to urge the council to give homelessness the serious attention that it deserves. We’ve never shied away from tough issues in Berkeley, and we shouldn’t start now. We are a smart and compassionate city, and I have no doubt that if we are serious about homelessness, we can find solutions that make sense and reflect our values.

Jesse Arreguin is a member of the Berkeley City Council representing District 4.

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  • Linda Franklin

    So right Jesse. Last weekend there were three folks passed out in front of the long vacant building that used to house Black Oak Books, in the middle of the day. They were lying in the middle of either spilled liquor or urine and broken bottles. Although public drunkenness is clearly illegal, when the police came, they just “moved folks on”.
    Our police are clearly not expected to arrest folks for drunkeness, and wouldn’t have with Prop S either. Nor did the police help get these folks into services despite what Options folks claim happens. I walked by as the police asked on one of the individuals where he was going to go, an older man who was in a wheelchair, who did not appear to be in the peak of good health. He said: “I’ll just go somewhere else”, clearly had no home. They left him on a November day to wander off to some less objectionable corner.
    It’s a sad situation. Beds and services are needed and an intention to get folks into services, and left the broken glass for someone else to sweep up. In the same vein, long vacant buildings are a nuisance to the community: those folks wouldn’t have been able to drink themselves into a stupor in the door-front of an open business.

  • peepsqueek

    To Jesse Arreguin-

    The vast majority of the poor in this Country fall into three categories: Did not finish high school; had children without being married; started a family before they were adults. This group could not get work when things were going well. Add alcohol and drugs into the mix, there is your problem. Who should get priority for housing? Who will be hired when good jobs come back? Who would you hire from this group if you had invested all your money into a modern business venture? Is compassion enough to fix this problem? How is it that so many people have not one family member or friend that would take them in, unless these were the type of people that have burned all their bridges?

    I have had friends over the years that were in a struggle and they stayed with me until they got back on their feet. I struggled when I first got out of the military and I stayed with family and friends until I got back on my feet. How many of these people have you taken into your house; provided your money to them, or buy them a ticket to go back to their family? Be honest, be specific!

    • Guest

      “I have had friends over the years that were in a struggle and they
      stayed with me until they got back on their feet. I struggled when I
      first got out of the military and I stayed with family and friends until I got back on my feet.”

      Are you a Cal alum or Cal student? Sounds like you’ve been through a lot of hardship. Congrats on getting back on your feet.

    • Stan De San Diego

      There are a lot of us who have struggled at various times in our life and may have approached conditions of temporary homeless at one time or another, where we were sleeping on a friend’s couch, in a car, or living under other less than ideal circumstances. However, there’s a difference between having a tough time and the type of chronic homeless people found in Berkeley, San Francisco and other enclaves with policies that are exceedingly permissive of the existence of homeless people on the street.

      I’m old enough to personally know 12 people who have found themselves members of the chronically homeless, and not ONE of them wound up in that condition because of some some singular misfortune such as losing a job or personal injury. In fact, most of them came from rather well-to-do families, some of them had received sizable inheritances from family members, and two of them were making six-figure salaries only a few years before they wound up on the streets. Every single on of them wound up on the streets because of a combination of bad choices, including alcohol/substance abuse, criminal activity rending them unemployable, and that bizarre form of narcissism found in destructive personality types. These people wound up on the street not because one day they lost their jobs or injured themselves and were unable to work. They wound up on the street because their bizarre, disruptive and parasitical behavior got to the point where they exhausted all the goodwill and patience of friends and family members to the point where they were financially and emotionally drained by the experience.

      Liberals and progressive, eager to flaunt their assumed compassion in their urge to project some type of moral superiority on the rest of the world, love the opportunity to let homeless people “tell their story” in the hopes that it will saddle other with guilt. The fact of the matter is that there are always 2 sides to every story. A former co-worker of mine who made over $20K/month as a consultant 10 years ago wound up squatting in a warehouse in San Jose when he was no longer able to keep a job and wore out his welcome with everyone he knew. He actually stayed with me for several months while he not only refused to clean up after himself and drank himself silly every night, but was unable to give me a penny for rent as he spent all his money on booze, cigarettes and strip clubs. He lost his consulting gig when he decided he was going to bring some mail-order bride from Bumfuckistan to the States and demanded another $5K/month to take care of her.

      I see a former neighbor of mine pushing a shopping cart in the local park. I will attempt to say hello to her and ask how she is doing, with the hopes of convincing her to seek help from a local shelter, for which I am verbally abused. I fell for her sob story about being evicted for not being able to pay the rent, took an entire paycheck and had a cashier’s check cut for the equivalent of 2 month’s rent. One week later, she’s being forcibly evicted and the landlord has never received the check, yet it has been cashed. Turned out that she decided to go an a crack binge for several days and never paid the rent.

      My mother lives in a small condominium complex in La Mesa, next to an area with several closed businesses that is clearly becoming a homeless camp. These homeless get drunk and start physical confrontations with customers at the local gas station/convenience store. One of the homeless males used to live in the same complex, and in fact he and his sister inherited the condo when their mother died, which they eventually lost for not paying property taxes. Their inheritance was quickly spend on various legal and illicit toxins as well as the usual overpriced adult toys, while the brother continued his practice of petty theft and residential burglary, for which he now was a substantial record and is unemployable even in fast food. Sis wound up baking her brains as spends most of her time locked up in some mental facility.

      I could go on and on about the case history of each one of these homeless people, but the fact of the matter is that their homelessness wasn’t the result of some misfortune that could happen to anyone. Their path to homeless, just like that of the majority of people in Berkeley, was the result of poor choices and destructive behavior that alienated those around them who might have been otherwise inclined to help. Berkeley has a disproportional homeless problem simply because the ideological blinders of the self-appointed “homeless advocates” prevent them from understanding the real causes of homeless employment and taking appropriate action.

    • I_h8_disqus

      Instead of asking the people you hate, what they are doing, you should ask the people you like what they are doing. The churches are doing their part, and the charities with high paid executives are doing their part. What are you doing? Berkeley has the homeless problem it has because it is willing to welcome the homeless, but the citizens are not willing to help. They leave it for the churches (City Team Ministries) or the charities (Berkeley Food and Housing Project), who get most of their donations from the wealthy and businesses. Then they complain about religion or the wealthy instead of noticing that those they complain about are doing things, but the complainers are not doing anything. Jesse has good intentions, but I bet he will mostly be alone as he tries to actually help the homeless.

      • Tony M

        [Then they complain about religion or the wealthy instead of noticing
        that those they complain about are doing things, but the complainers are
        not doing anything.]

        The Occupy Movement explained in a nutshell.