UC Berkeley removes ‘FreeBox’ in People’s Park despite student support

Lisa Teague/Courtesy

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Campus maintenance workers removed a “FreeBox” donation and distribution site in People’s Park on Tuesday morning, a little more than a week after it was constructed by a park user in collaboration with UC Berkeley students.

A small group of UC Berkeley students constructed the FreeBox, a consolidated donation space protected from the elements and urban wildlife, in honor of the park’s 50th anniversary, according to People’s Park Committee member Lisa Teague. Teague said FreeBoxes have been put up and taken down because of campus orders several times throughout the park’s history. The most recent FreeBox was removed because the campus believes there are better alternatives to the box, according to UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof.

“The structure in question was removed due to a long, unfortunate history with similar boxes that have been placed in the park in the past,” Mogulof said in an email. “We believe there are far better, safer and healthier ways of meeting the needs supposedly addressed by a box of this sort.”

FreeBoxes generally “fill an important need,” according to Mike Zint, co-founder of the homeless advocacy group First They Came for the Homeless. Zint said in an email that homeless community members were able to replace blankets and clothing at a successfully operating FreeBox during the post office occupation that lasted 17 months.

Teague said that when People’s Park Committee members got wind of the fact that the new FreeBox was likely to be removed, she approached the ASUC for support.

ASUC Senator Teddy Lake served as the primary sponsor for a resolution in support of the FreeBox in the park. Lake also called on Chancellor Carol Christ and Mayor Jesse Arreguín to try to ensure that the FreeBox remained in the park “without interference.” ASUC executives also published a letter on behalf of the entire organization extending their support for the initiative, while acknowledging that community members have attempted to construct FreeBoxes for years that UCPD has continuously “destroyed.”

Mogulof said in the email that the university-funded, full-time park social worker helps provide park users “the same sort of assistance” the FreeBox is intended to provide. He added that in the past, boxes of this kind have attracted unwanted items, caused hygiene and health risks and required monitoring and cleanup. Mogulof also added that past FreeBoxes have been subject to arson, noting that the past two FreeBoxes, “for whatever reason,” were destroyed with fire.

“We are still committed to having a new FreeBox. It is important to the community and to the functioning of the park,” Teague said. “We would be happy to talk about the FreeBox with the (UC Berkeley) administration. … If that could happen, we could try and negotiate something that would be agreeable to all parties.”

Contact Rachel Barber at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @rachelbarber_.