Berkeley STILL hasn’t sanctioned homeless encampments. Why?

CITY AFFAIRS: Mayor Jesse Arreguín campaigned on helping the homeless community, but he has yet to live up to his campaign promises

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When Jesse Arreguín was just a candidate in Berkeley’s 2016 mayoral election, his campaign revolved around fixing the housing and homelessness crises. But a year after being elected, Arreguín still hasn’t followed through on many of his promises to the homeless community.

At a homelessness forum hosted by Councilmember Kate Harrison on Monday, Arreguín said he wants to ensure that the city “has the ability to remove an encampment at their discretion” with a 72-hour notice, if public safety concerns arise. The proposed policy — which Arreguín called in a recent interview with The Daily Californian a “good neighbor policy” — would ostensibly allow encampment residents to stay as long as they address the health or safety concerns brought forward by city code enforcement officers within the three-day period.

The proposed policy is well-intentioned, and the number of city-initiated encampment removals has certainly decreased in recent months. It is encouraging to see a more concerted effort to decriminalize homelessness in Berkeley. But just Thursday, another encampment was disbanded by the city — and this is to say nothing of recent BART raids.

The draft language doesn’t seem sensitive to the realities of homeless people — for instance, there’s nothing to stop a code enforcement officer from determining that somebody’s belongings are an “accumulation of trash.”

The policy is still in the early stages of development, but it diverges from Arreguín’s campaign promises of authorized camping on designated private property. In a recent interview, Arreguín affirmed that “if there are encampments and they aren’t creating significant impacts, they should be allowed to exist.”

But that’s not happening now. A 72-hour notice doesn’t make ultimately disbanding homeless encampments more acceptable, and it certainly doesn’t solve homelessness. Neither does enforcing subjective neighborhood standards.

“I’m of the personal opinion that if the city were to sanction encampments, it’s got to be supervised,” Arreguín said. “You have to provide restrooms and garbage (collection), or there may be sanitation issues.”

Great idea, Mr. Mayor. Indeed, let’s do this.

Arreguín and the rest of City Council have shown that they know how the city should act in regards to homelessness. But still only one encampment has a portable restroom nearby, and there’s no city-sanctioned permanent encampment. And with so much of the council on the same page, excuses ring like hollow politics. The city’s been waiting too long for pragmatic changes to homelessness policy.

The Berkeley community is waiting for Arreguín to be the mayor that he campaigned to be. So where is he?

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