As I drove along Martin Luther King Jr Way on my way to school this morning, I noticed yet another homeless community had been removed from its site, with the vacated area fenced off. The cities of Oakland and Berkeley have been ruthless in their recent push towards the dismantling of these “tent cities,” with no effective plan in place to provide shelter and services to those displaced.
According to the most recent Point-in-Time count, or PIT, there are currently 5,629 homeless people in Alameda County, half of which reside in Oakland alone. That is a 39 percent increase from the PIT data from 2015, with the main explanation being the dramatic rise in rents along with a plummet in availability of dedicated affordable housing. That being said, as the housing market continues to get worse, it is safe to assume that the homeless population will continue to increase in the coming years.
As a community, will our only answer to this crisis continue to be breaking up any homeless camps once they become big enough to be visible to city residents and draw criticism as being an “eyesore” to the public?
As a Berkeley resident, I chose this progressive city as my home because of its history of tolerance, roots in equality, and forward-thinking nature. Yet we aren’t showing these values to our neighbors experiencing homelessness, but rather we are pulling out the (literal) rug from underneath them with no solution to offer in its place.
Two solutions exist here, but they must be implemented in tandem: Dedicate more funding to increasing services and shelters to offer the rising homeless population, and demonstrate compassion and allow our city’s homeless to maintain respect and dignity by not harshly razing their camps and essentially destroying the only sense of community they have.
Kelly Olson is a Berkeley resident.