Councilmember Linda Maio held a community meeting Saturday that discussed the alleged criminal behavior of certain groups of homeless people in Ohlone Park.
According to Maio, the meeting was an opportunity for residents directly affected by Ohlone Park to report their firsthand experiences and share ideas for improving conditions in the park.
During the meeting, residents described picking up hypodermic needles, seeing knife fights and having trash thrown into their yards. Dog owners reported that their dogs have ingested marijuana, methamphetamines and other drugs, and have become ill as a result.
“Ohlone Park is my neighborhood park,” Maio said. “I use it with my grandchildren, and the neighbors have been writing to me.”
Assistant to the City Manager Jim Hynes said he has received complaints from Berkeley residents about the public health and safety of the park, as well as noise from the park.
Glass, a homeless resident of Berkeley who served in the military and provided only his last name, draws a line between different groups of the homeless population. While he acknowledges that there are some who engage in illegal activities, he also pointed out that there are also regular people who have ended up on the streets because of unfair conditions.
“I’m not saying we don’t have problems, because we do — we do have problems — but we’re human, and nobody treats us like humans anymore,” said Kerrie Crawford, a homeless individual who attended the meeting Saturday. “I think that’s the saddest thing of all.”
At the meeting, according to Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, a homeless person pointed out that it has not been just a homeless problem. The person said there are people in the park who are not homeless and have been engaging in illegal activities and behaviors that have made the park uninviting. Maio also said there is a difference between behavioral problems and homelessness.
According to Maio, residents have recently suggested a stronger local police presence, more signs stating the rules of camping, a sunset curfew and changes in landscaping and lighting to discourage illicit behavior.
Arreguin believes that some of these solutions may address the homelessness issue in the short term but that the problems will only “go somewhere else, because the reality is, people don’t have a place to live” if long-term solutions aren’t implemented.
Crawford questioned the ability of the city to promptly and effectively address the needs of the homeless.
“(The ideas) sound good, but that’s not going to get anything done,” Crawford said. “They’re going to kick us out of here, they’re going to make the cops come. … They don’t want homeless people in Berkeley. That’s the ultimate goal.”
At its Nov. 3 meeting, City Council will hear a recommendation from Arreguin that the city manager expand outreach to homeless individuals, increase funding for crisis intervention training, build more public restrooms and provide more storage spaces and warming centers for homeless individuals.