On some nights, at 5:59 a.m., homeless individuals are known to congregate around the border of People’s Park, waiting out that last minute until the curfew is lifted when they can re-enter the campus-owned grounds they call home.
Between July 1 and Wednesday, there have been about 75 incidents of lodging on UC Berkeley property as reported in the UCPD activity log. During the same timespan last year, there were 22 instances. Although July isn’t over yet, it has seen more documented incidents to date than in each of the past three months.
Illegal lodging is a misdemeanor under California’s penal code, where it is defined as residing in any place, private or public, without the owner’s permission. In UCPD jurisdiction, it often occurs on Edwards Track and in the Berkeley hills.
UCPD spokesperson Lt. Eric Tejada said he doesn’t think lodging overnight on UC Berkeley property, which includes People’s Park and the hills beyond the main campus, has increased. For the 24 years he’s been with UCPD, lodging has always been a big issue.
But Osha Neumann, a lawyer at the East Bay Community Law Center who has represented homeless individuals cited for lodging violations, said he has seen an increase in enforcement — not necessarily through lodging citations but through rules about curfew on campus property.
The curfew for People’s Park lasts from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., during which time no one is allowed in the park. The curfew on campus, on the other hand, begins at midnight, and anyone found on campus must have a “legal reason” to be there, Tejada said. Otherwise, they, too, can be cited. If individuals are doing more than just loitering — if they have set up any kind of encampment — the issue of lodging comes into play.
The first step once a lodging violation is identified, Tejada said, is a field interview card that documents the incident but carries no penalty. He said UCPD generally follows a “three-strikes” rule of thumb, giving violators a few warnings before a citation is issued, although this is by no means a hard-and-fast rule.
Gregory, 56, a long-time resident of People’s Park who only gave his first name, said those documented for lodging and curfew-related violations don’t have anywhere else to go.
“They wander the streets, creating another problem,” he said, adding that citations pile up that can’t be paid, and eventually, police issue warrants.
While shelters are an option, and UCPD officers will provide information on shelters if asked, Tejada said people generally aren’t interested in that option.
Pappa Rae, 53, who has been a resident of the park on and off since 1989, called shelters a “minute fix” and said if there were more long-term programs for the homeless, people would likely take advantage of them.
“All they’re doing is trying to put a fresh coat of paint on a broken chair,” he said about short-term fixes.
Additionally, according to Rae, getting out of homelessness itself poses a something of a catch-22. To get a job, applicants need an address or at the very least a phone number. But for that, they have to have money — which necessitates a job.
Ultimately, Neumann said, as long as UC Berkeley keeps following the “leafblower approach to homelessness” by “blowing the piles of homeless people” out of the area, they’ll keep coming back.
But Tejada said UCPD can only do so much about homelessness. They have to patrol regularly to monitor the property, but they can’t do much more than enforce the penal code. Still, investigating events such as robberies on campus takes precedent over preventing illegal lodging, he said.
Gregory, who acknowledged that keeping the park clean is a concern, particularly for staff in charge of the park, still believes police action is unreasonable. According to Rae, officers rousting people in the middle of the night is at odds with the spirit of the park as a place meant to be a “safe haven for homeless people.”
When people are cited for sleeping, it contributes to the criminalization of homelessness, said Robert Barrer, director of housing programs for Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency.
Neumann believes that, at the heart of the matter, the rules themselves are unclear, and Tejada acknowledged that in some cases people don’t know they’re on campus property and violating a penal code — hence the reason for first issuing a warning.
“Let’s say you’re homeless,” Neumann said. “When are you not lodging? Are you lodging if you’re sleeping? Lying down? If you have stuff with you? How much stuff? There’s no way of knowing.”