Berkeley City Council failed homeless residents by banning RVs

CITY AFFAIRS: If City Council truly cares about its homeless community members, it should stop banning the few options these residents have

An RV park with people walking their dogs or going to school or work
Emily Bi/Staff

When Berkeley City Council voted to ban RVs last week, the message was clear: Homeless and home-insecure community members don’t have a place in Berkeley.

On Thursday, the council amended a municipal code to prevent RVs from parking on city streets from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. This ban targets unhoused individuals who, for the most part, can’t afford the city’s expensive housing amid a growing housing crisis. Since the council didn’t propose an alternate spot for RVs to park during these hours, the ban effectively displaces these already vulnerable individuals.

For a city that has repeatedly claimed to support the rights of homeless individuals, this regulation contradicts these ideals entirely — it’s toxic to community members who should be valued regardless of their living situation.

Other nearby cities, including Oakland and San Francisco, have already passed similar bans. Now that Berkeley has joined them, homeless and home-insecure community members are left with few options — these bans will effectively force them out of the Bay Area.

For many community members, living in an RV is a temporary situation. RVs allow home-insecure individuals a semblance of security and safety — they have a roof over their heads and a bed to sleep in. Yet the city won’t even allow residents to have this temporary solution to alleviate the immediate crisis of homelessness.

The new regulations will simply push housing insecurity into another city, while doing nothing to address the critical issues Berkeley is facing. Quite frankly, banning RVs from parking in Berkeley overnight doesn’t solve the issues that cause individuals to live in RVs in the first place. The ordinance merely addresses a symptom of a larger issue, while sweeping the city’s dire need for affordable housing under the rug.

Residents living in RVs need protection, not additional obstacles that threaten their livelihood. At the bare minimum, the council should have designated a place for RV parking in Berkeley before it instituted this ban. It’s not like Berkeley doesn’t have the land to spare at least temporarily, while City Council comes up with long-term solutions to the affordable housing crisis. Now, the council must quickly search for a space to convert into a public parking lot dedicated to RVs.

The council approved this recent amendment after receiving complaints from community members that the RVs were blocking storefronts and taking parking space that should belong to local residents. But these minor complaints shouldn’t be prioritized over people’s lives.

The city has passed similarly exclusionary measures before — many of which The Daily Californian Editorial Board has criticized. Just a few months ago, the council agreed to allow the city to disband homeless encampments based on arbitrary sidewalk regulations. The very fact that the council has refused to legalize homeless encampments — even though cities like Oakland have — is another city failure to provide protections for homeless community members.

This new ban on RVs merely reminds community members of the city’s tendency to circle the issue of homelessness without enacting real change. The council has admittedly proposed long-term solutions to the housing crisis, including a $135 million affordable housing bond and the Pathways Project, which placed 20 people in living spaces after three months of being open. But these solutions fail to address the immediate crisis.

There are roughly 1,000 homeless individuals in Berkeley each night, and yet the city only has about 200 beds, leaving more than 800 people without a roof over their heads. The city can’t keep pushing for the future of affordable housing without addressing the immediate needs of unhoused individuals. At the very least, the council shouldn’t actively shut down the only options residents are left with.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.