Berkeley homeless vulnerable to sudden evictions with proposed encampment policy

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Berkeley recently began discussing new proposed policies on encampment and sidewalk regulations that, if passed, would allow the city to remove homeless encampments at its discretion.

The encampment policy was first proposed in December 2016 and the sidewalk policy in April 2017, according to Mayor Jesse Arreguín. The policies were referred to the Ad-Hoc Subcommittee on Homelessness on Jan. 16, and Arreguín said he expects the subcommittee to make its recommendation in March, after which Berkeley City Council will vote on the policies in April.

Under the proposed encampment policy, homeless individuals living in encampments would be given a 72-hour window to resolve minor issues, including the accumulation of trash or other objects, before being threatened with eviction.

If Berkeley were to find that encampment residents violated health and safety codes or created “significant public health concerns,” it would be allowed to remove the encampment without notice under the proposed policy.

The encampment policy would allow Berkeley to immediately remove an encampment if it is deemed to be in an “unsafe” location or a location that interferes with youth facilities, including children’s playgrounds or areas close to oncoming traffic.

The sidewalk policy would limit individuals living on the streets to 9 square feet of space.

“Sidewalks and public spaces were never intended for human habitation,” the proposal reads. “In light of these challenges, it is critical to develop clear and humane standards regarding objects on sidewalks and regulating encampments.”

The policies are “still in development,” according to Arreguín. He added that the city made the drafts public in order to glean feedback from Berkeley residents, which would be used to revise the policies accordingly.

“There are many encampments throughout the city that the city has allowed to exist,” Arreguín said. “We’re not going to kick people when they’re down, (and) we’re not going to harass the homeless. At least since I’ve become the mayor, we’ve changed our approach to the homeless crisis — one that’s thoughtful, one that’s humane.”

Executive Director of the Telegraph Business Improvement District Stuart Bakerwho attended the ad hoc meetings and was involved in the drafting of the sidewalk policy, said the policy is trying to achieve a “balance” between meeting needs of people living on the streets and those of merchants who use the streets.

Arreguín said he has held meetings regarding the proposed policies with business leaders, homeless activists and members of the Berkeley community.

Mike Zint, founder of First They Came for the Homeless, however, said he thinks the proposed policies do not represent the “poor” equally.

“If the mayor and City Council actually want to do something to help the homeless, they need to listen to the homeless,” Zint said. “They’re leaving out huge segments of the population, and those segments don’t have a voice.”

Berkeley resident and homeless activist Guy “Mike” Lee voiced similar concerns. Lee said he thinks the proposed encampment policy is “designed specifically to get rid of homeless people in Berkeley.”

“We don’t have a homeless problem — what we have is a management problem,” Lee said. “You can’t get rid of encampments until you start building housing that people can afford. In the meantime, what do we do with people on the streets?”

Contact Anjali Shrivastava at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @anjalii_shrivas.