City’s perceived lack of action regarding homelessness frustrates community members

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Over the past month, residents living near Second Street and University Avenue have become concerned about a growing homeless population and alleged drug use underneath a nearby overpass and have been dissatisfied with the city’s response.

Business owner Henry DeFauw, who has lived near the overpass for more than eight years, said the area has never been so cluttered. Recently, residents have noticed human waste, used needles, scraps of metal and broken glass under the overpass.

DeFauw said his council member, Linda Maio, has told him that all normal shelters in the area are currently full. DeFauw said he suspects that many homeless people have resorted to seeking shelter near the overpass as a result.

“Occasionally, someone used to camp out (under the overpass) because of rain, but it was nothing like it is now,” said nearby landlord Peter Nervo. “Now, there are over 20 people out here, and the number just keeps growing.”

Nervo said community members are particularly concerned with the safety of women and children who attend church meetings and piano lessons in the area. There has been a “little bit of harassment and catcalling” aimed at female employees, according to DeFauw.

Both DeFauw and Nervo added that they have noticed an increase in the amount of drug use in the area.

Mike Zint, co-founder of the advocacy group First They Came For the Homeless, said although drug addiction is a major issue in the homeless community, it occurs just as much among people who are housed.

“The difference is visibility,” Zint said in an email. “Because (this drug use) is visible in all its ugliness for the public to judge, persecution of all homeless is occurring.”

Zint also called upon residents in the area to “be humane” and to contact the police only for crime-related issues, not because of the presence of homeless individuals alone.

Community members and business owners located near the overpass said they were frustrated by a perceived lack of action from the city.

Berkeley Police Department sent out a cleanup crew to the area three weeks ago, according to BPD spokesperson Sgt. Andrew Frankel. DeFauw said, however, that the department cleared only a small fraction of the total waste.

“These processes are complex and require a lot of coordination,” said city spokesperson Matthai Chakko. “They’re not as simple as, say, writing a memo. That’s not going to solve this problem. It really takes a lot of coordination and work.”

Nervo noted that, in addition to having the area cleaned up, he wants to see the city do more for its homeless population.

“The city should take care of those people,” Nervo said. “They shouldn’t have to go under the overpass to find shelter. Berkeley’s supposed to be a liberal, empathetic place.”

Contact Amber Tang at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ambertang_dc.