Several city officials and community organizers held a press conference Monday morning to protest the amendments of two city ordinances regarding homelessness in Berkeley.
A group of nearly 20 individuals gathered outside Old City Hall on Martin Luther King, Jr. Way and spoke in opposition to the proposed agenda item, which was co-sponsored by Mayor Tom Bates and Councilmembers Linda Maio, Lori Droste and Laurie Capitelli. If passed, the item would amend several city ordinances, placing restrictions on where homeless people can sleep and place their belongings.
As a concession to these restrictions, however, the amendments propose providing between 50 and 100 bins at a secure storage facility for homeless individuals, as well as mobile bathroom units with showers, in the Downtown and Telegraph areas.
For some, the measure was attempting to ban problems the city had not yet tried to fix. They also criticized the measure for not providing enough storage spaces or public bathrooms.
“The intent is to make it so that homeless people are invisible in Berkeley,” said Osha Neumann, a community-based civil rights lawyer, during the press conference.
Neumann also criticized the city’s “leafblower approach” toward homeless individuals — which often includes displacing populations from one part of the city to another.
According to Councilmember Linda Maio, who co-sponsored the item, the measure will not be enforced if there are not enough storage spaces, and it will not take effect until storage spaces are built. She also added that the impetus for writing the ordinance was a growing problem with people’s possessions impeding pedestrians’ ability to walk.
“For people who don’t have any place to put their things, it is hard to be so harsh,” Maio said. “What we had to do was provide good quality spaces for people to store their things.”
Michael Lee, the organizer of First They Came for the Homeless, a self-advocacy group for the homeless, said past laws failed because they did not seek input from homeless individuals. He said council members must instead “consciously include” the homeless in considerations before making decisions regarding the homeless population.
Later that evening, a group of approximately 30 individuals participated in a “sing-out” in front of Old City Hall, echoing similar sentiments presented during the morning’s press conference.
“We’re hoping these actions and compassion will make the city council and council members do the right thing,” said Sally Hindman, an event organizer and executive director of South Berkeley nonprofit Youth Spirit Artworks. “We want to be a community that cares for its people, and these ordinances are grave violations of civil rights — they’re driving people out.”
A speakout and rally are also planned to precede Berkeley City Council’s regular meeting Tuesday, when the proposed amendments will be presented and further discussed.
Staff writer Jessie Qian contributed to this report.