With removal of ‘FreeBox’ at People’s Park, UC Berkeley administration disregards community, student wishes

COMMUNITY AFFAIRS: Campus should work with students instead of overturning their efforts to better Berkeley community

People painting on a structure in People's Park
Ariel Lung/Senior Staff

In the coming weeks, students moving out will have many items that could be donated directly to Berkeley’s homeless community, and students recently built a donation box in collaboration with a People’s Park resident that could have facilitated this process. But the “FreeBox” was removed from the park on campus orders a little more than a week after it was built, without adequate dialogue with those who constructed it.

The FreeBox served as a space for UC Berkeley students and city residents to donate items to the homeless community — and this box was not the first to be constructed and subsequently taken down. According to UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof, the box was removed from People’s Park because there are healthier and safer alternatives for donations.

The campus sees the university-funded social worker serving People’s Park residents as a sufficient alternative to the FreeBox. But one social worker for the many unhoused individuals who visit the park is not enough to meet all their needs. According to Mike Zint, the co-founder of First They Came for the Homeless, FreeBoxes fill needs that currently are not being met. The campus’s removal of the FreeBox limits the resources available to users of People’s Park and effectively obstructs people’s ability to donate directly to the unhoused.

And this problem is more extensive than the loss of the donation space. Many students supported the FreeBox, and ASUC Senator Teddy Lake requested that the box remain untouched by campus. By undermining the efforts of those that worked hard to construct the FreeBox and turning a blind eye to ASUC officers’ explicit support for the initiative, campus administration has demonstrated a disregard for the voices and wishes of its student body.

Members of the People’s Park Committee are open to negotiating a compromise for receiving donations to the park. But campus’s response to the FreeBox indicates the administration’s ambivalence toward students’ desire to increase support to the park’s community — support that community members have said they need.

FreeBoxes were once a staple of People’s Park culture, creating ties between People’s Park residents and the Berkeley community. The students who constructed the box — and the ASUC officials who advocated for it to remain in the park — recognized that and acted on it.

On a campus that encourages its students to use their education and resources to give back to the community, it is deeply disillusioning to see student efforts to aid that community explicitly barred.

Rather than dismantling student efforts to support the homeless population, the UC Berkeley administration needs to listen to the People’s Park Committee, the ASUC and the student body on these topics. Students have expressed a desire to collaborate with campus administration on ways to aid People’s Park. It is time for campus to meet students halfway.

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