Advocacy group demands action for homeless as winter approaches

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Emilia Bulfone/File

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Chilled winds blow, rain pours and the homeless residents sleeping on the streets of Berkeley continue to bear the brunt of the approaching winter.

The city’s already precarious homeless situation was swept into further crisis after the emergency winter shelter at Berkeley’s First Congregational Church was damaged in September by a fire. Though the city has made recent efforts to address the lack of an emergency winter shelter in the form of an ad hoc committee, a self-advocacy group — First They Came for the Homeless — released a list of demands Monday for Mayor-elect Jesse Arreguin and his administration.

The group called on the city to impose a moratorium on police raids of homeless tent villages. In addition, they demanded the city designate a location for a sanctioned tent village and renew the emergency shelter declaration and use it to provide meaningful housing alternatives.

“We are working on locating some safe places for people to be, and ideally out of the weather,” said ad hoc committee member and Councilmember Linda Maio in an email.

Homeless activist Mike Zint, a leader of the group, was arrested last week in the disbandment of an encampment near Old City Hall. As a result of the disbandment, the encampment was moved to the corner of Milvia and Center streets.

The final demand listed was to change the wording of a city ordinance that passed last year that restricts belongings on sidewalks to 2 square feet during the day.

“The 2 ft sq designation is likely to be revisited as it is too small,” Maio, who co-sponsored the ordinance, said in the email.

Many homeless people living in encampments are sick from exposure to the rain and wind, according to Guy “Mike” Lee, former mayoral candidate and homeless advocate. Living under tarps rather than tents, members of the homeless camps have also had their homes regularly dispersed by police, Lee said.

“Everything else they want to talk about is fine and dandy, but it starts with the moratorium. They’ve got to stop raiding us,” Lee said. “Just allow homeless people to take care of themselves.”

According to Sally Hindman, executive director of Youth Spirit Artworks — an arts job training program focused on empowering homeless and low-income youth — the hope is for homeless activists and homeless people to work together with the city to reach and surpass the standards other local communities, such as Oakland, have managed to meet.

The city’s ad hoc committee is set to approach the crisis with a four-stage plan ranging from immediate solutions to take place within 30 days to long-term ones to be enacted within the next 12 months. They intend to soon identify a replacement emergency homeless shelter and are attempting to find regional partners for an outdoor sanctioned homeless camp. In the future, the creation of tiny house communities may be considered.

“All the great religions of the world call on us in one form or another to love our neighbor as ourselves,” Hindman said. “The homeless community, in one way or another, is our neighbor.”

Contact Edward Booth at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @Edward_E_Booth.

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  • Grandpa Dino

    At some point, those ‘less fortunate’ must take some responsibility for themselves. There are some people in the gutters who were there when I was a student in 1970. Habitual poor life choices do not make one a victim.

  • ShadrachSmith

    People’s Park is a 50 year testament that Ds have no clue how to help the homeless. How about jobs? Have you ever tried offering them jobs?

  • Marcia Poole

    Help Requested for Tent City – “First they came for the homeless”

    We are requesting the residents of Berkeley reach out to those
    in their community who are less fortunate. We ask this with the sincere hope
    that it awakens the community to immediate and compassionate action.

    The Berkeley City Manager’s office has repeatedly called on
    the Berkeley Police Department to roust a small group of clean and sober
    homeless people who are living outdoors in various locales. Last Thursday and
    Friday mornings, the police confiscated their warm sleeping bags, blankets,
    tents, tarps, clothing, etc. The police are mandated by law to put these
    belongings in a specific spot from where they can be retrieved. They have not
    done so. The current Tent City people are now sleeping under two spread out
    tarps that protect them from the rain and they are wrapped in whatever the
    community has been able to donate. The wind and cold still penetrate this
    temporary shelter and several of the people there are now very ill.

    If anyone has extra sleeping bags, blankets, small tents,
    warm socks and jackets, etc., please consider donating them to this group
    immediately. You could deliver them directly to Tent City – “First they came for the homeless” at
    the southwest corner of Milvia and Center Streets.

    We are also asking members of the community to volunteer to
    camp out with them for a night now and then. Choose whichever night you wish
    and bring your own warm camping gear. We are asking this in order to show solidarity
    with those in need and to act as witnesses in case they are rousted again by
    the police in the early hours of the morning.

    Three of the campers are currently very ill from exposure.
    If any of you have medical training – (nurses, doctors, medics) – we also ask
    you to drop in and help them.

    We thank you all.

    • ShadrachSmith

      This plea is over 50 years old, no visible progress to date. Could you be wrong about anything? Has free stuff made People’s Park a homeless resort spa? If you give them free weed and debit cards no telling how many you could attract.