City of Berkeley should not disperse encampments

CITY ISSUES: With no viable alternatives, Berkeley should allow homeless to keep their encampments, especially during cold winters

Whether the city of Berkeley likes it or not, homeless encampments save lives.

By repeatedly dispersing those encampments because of public complaints, the city has failed to value the demands and the lives of the homeless.

Several homeless people have already died this winter from exposure to the rain and cold. Their only reprieves are the sparse emergency shelters the city has opened, but they provide only temporary housing and far too little space. Even then, the solutions are myopic. Unlike last winter, the homeless lack encampments like Liberty City, which provided the homeless with a self-sufficient community that avoided exposure-related casualties.

In this past year, Berkeley Police Department has continued a tiresome and expensive exercise of disbanding homeless encampments every time a new one emerges, citing municipal codes as well as health and safety regulations. They have also cited drug use to justify dispersal orders, further criminalizing mental illnesses such as drug addiction.

While encampments may be illegal, the city makes them so and can break from this detrimental tradition. Several U.S. cities, such as Seattle and West Oakland, have successfully experimented with sanctioned encampments. All Berkeley has to do is negotiate a plot of land where the homeless can safely reside.

Encampments near facilities where they can receive treatment and medication would provide the homeless with a more consistent location, allowing for greater accessibility of services such as soup kitchens and shower trucks. Additionally, Berkeley could adopt a navigation center, similar to the one in San Francisco, near encampments that provides the homeless with information about the nearest available resources such as beds.

When Mayor Jesse Arreguin ran for office, he promoted a platform of solving Berkeley’s homelessness crisis. Where is that vigor now? Progress shouldn’t halt once votes stop rolling in. Arreguin should work alongside officials in Berkeley and neighboring cities to bolster services and heed the homeless community’s most basic demands.

And if the city is not sold on the idea of a permanent encampment, one can still serve as a temporary measure while Berkeley facilitates long-term solutions.

Homeless activists need more support, not more vigils, and have long advocated a permanent encampment. It is not unreasonable or unprecedented in other cities, and it is time Berkeley listened.

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

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