Berkeley can’t solve homelessness with arbitrary regulations

CITY ISSUES: City officials must produce constructive legislation without using dehumanizing rhetoric

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Alexander Hong/Staff

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Two years out from his mayoral win in 2016, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín has made little progress on one of his central platforms — providing resources and improving conditions for Berkeley’s homeless population.

In 2012, Arreguín opposed the controversial proposal of Measure S. The “sit-lie measure, as it came to be known, would have prohibited people from sitting on the streets of commercial areas from the hours of 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. As it became increasingly obvious that the measure would negatively impact homeless populations, it lost traction among voters and failed.

Now, it seems that Berkeley history is repeating itself, with recent discussions surrounding a proposal that would limit an individual to no more than 9 square feet for their belongings on city sidewalks. Authored by Arreguín and City Councilmember Sophie Hahn, this policy is yet another installment in Berkeley’s fruitless efforts to punish homeless populations without providing any resources to uplift the community.

At a special City Council meeting April 26, at which the policy was discussed, Hahn said, “Housing is the only answer to homelessness.” So why is she supporting a policy that in no way serves those without homes?

While the proposed policy to limit the space for a person’s belongings aims to address the growing concern of Berkeley business owners about loitering and misuses of private resources, it ultimately serves as a placeholder for progress. In early March, when City Council was looking to reinstate foot patrol officers in Downtown Berkeley, CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association John Caner said it would make for a “higher quality of life.” But if the city of Berkeley wants to create policies that foster a greater sense of community and “quality of life,” it should do so for all of its inhabitants — not just those who can afford Berkeley’s incredibly high housing costs.

This policy isn’t the only one discussed in recent months that could displace homeless populations. Arreguín also previously proposed regulations on homeless encampments. His proposal would allow Berkeley to shut down encampments, without notice, if the city determines that the spaces’ health or safety conditions are “severe enough.” While this proposition doesn’t directly threaten to remove encampments, it grants the city powers that further endanger the security of its homeless population.

If Berkeley really wants to help those who live in encampments, it needs to sanction these spaces. Seattle has sanctioned three spaces in the city that allow for homeless encampments. Not only do they offer a realistic path to housing, they provide those who live there with access to government services such as trash pickup and port-a-potties. By acknowledging the reality of its circumstances as well as the needs of its entire population, Seattle is making actual strides to solve its housing crisis.

Berkeley City Council must put an end to dehumanizing legislation. It must start viewing the city as a population of humans instead of plots of land.

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