A hand up for the homeless

CITY AFFAIRS: Given city's inability to adequately provide for or serve its homeless population, it shouldn't criminalize those who do.

That Berkeley would essentially punish people in the homeless community for the city’s own inability to help them is one thing. That in doing so, city officials would actually harm somebody poised to rectify some of those shortcomings is something entirely different.

Nanci Armstrong-Temple’s arrest Friday while participating in a protest of the city’s insufficient homelessness services demonstrated the worst that Berkeley can be, particularly because the homeless encampment acted as not just a protest site but as a home for homeless Berkeleyans with nowhere else to go.

The homeless encampment at Adeline and Fairview streets was forcibly disbanded Friday morning, and in the process, as Armstrong-Temple attempted to stop the police from forcing an elderly, disabled woman into a van, she too was arrested. A harrowing video shows her on the ground with two police officers holding her down as she can be heard saying, “I am not resisting — you are twisting my arm.”

City officials should be ashamed. Berkeley police shouldn’t be using this kind of force against protesting residents. And though this shows the kind of community-based leadership Armstrong-Temple would be capable of, it also elucidates some of the city’s greatest shortcomings.

Berkeley officials, both the police and politicians, have never quite figured out how to deal with the homeless community. When homeless members of the Berkeley community create tent cities and then ask for recognition and additional sanitation services, the city shouldn’t respond by using the police to disband the encampments.  

After all, the fact that the tent city existed in the first place is the result Berkeley officials’ failure to create adequate resources for the homeless population.

Weeks ago, when Councilmember and mayoral candidate Laurie Capitelli convened an ad hoc committee on homelessness, the potential to finally hear out the demands and requests of the homeless community opened up. Instead, the committee ultimately declared that a tent city would be infeasible.

We need representatives who empower their constituents to solve problems on their terms. This doesn’t mean telling the homeless community that the solutions they need are impossible. It means working hard, as governments should, to actualize the community’s needs. City staff must find a way to ensure that tent cities can exist in humane and sanitary ways.

Instead, a mere four days before the election, the one candidate who has shown true commitment to Berkeley was thrust into a jail cell and forced to spend one of the final days of her campaign behind bars.

And making everything worse, she was in jail for protesting something that shouldn’t have to be protested. The city needs to take care of and listen to its homeless community. It’s not that complicated.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Senior Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.

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