In regards to the Nov. 3 op-ed “Helping the homeless helps us all,” the Homeless Task Force’s Tier 1 Recommendations sidestep the obvious, vacating laws that target homeless people and criminalize unavoidable human behavior.
The U.S. Department of Justice issued a “statement of interest” Aug. 6, stating “that criminalizing sleeping in public when no shelter is available violates the Eighth Amendment,” noting that “sleeping in public is ‘involuntary and inseparable from’ an individual’s status or condition of being homeless when no shelter space is available.”
Berkeley has about 240 shelter spaces for approximately 800 to 1,000 homeless people on any given night and no public campground. The wear and tear on our parks and public spaces, which have to double as campgrounds, is obvious, especially to those searching for shelter with no options.
Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has issued new grant guidelines asking applicants to describe the measures they are taking to reduce the criminalization of homelessness. Ordinances that criminalize homelessness, slated for Berkeley’s Nov. 17 City Council meeting, will make it more difficult to get federal assistance.
The Justice and Housing and Urban Development departments are calling for an end to laws that criminalize homelessness, of which Berkeley has many. The Tier 1 Recommendations omit this part of the Homeless Task Force Report and thus distort the communitywide voices who called clearly for an end to what the Department of Justice called “unconstitutional and abusive policing.”
Carol Denney is a Homeless Task Force member and the human rights editor of Street Spirit.