Upholding the ‘Shared Sidewalk’ policy dismisses basic needs of Berkeley’s homeless community

CITY ISSUES: Enforcing rules that limit individuals’ ability to rest should not be a solution to crowded sidewalks

Illustration of a police officer looking at time that reads 9:55pm in front of a tent.
Alexander Hong/Senior Staff

The city of Berkeley has repeatedly and appallingly failed its homeless community.

The city has banned RV parking on public streets from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. It has closed the Berkeley Emergency Storm Shelter during some of the city’s coldest and rainiest months — and repeatedly failed to establish a permanent location for the shelter, despite having access to half a million dollars in funding. As of 2018, the city has left about 75 percent of its homeless population unsheltered each night, providing only 209 shelter beds for the approximately 1,000 people without housing. It has raided and evicted people from homeless encampments that provided a semblance of stability and security.

And now, Berkeley has taken its relationship with the homeless community to an even more ruthless and persecutory level.

On June 5, the Berkeley City Council upheld its enforcement of the “Shared Sidewalk” policy that was passed in October 2018. This anti-homeless policy limits the amount of space a person’s possessions can take up on the sidewalk to 9 square feet. And the only hours that items are allowed to be in front of or within 3 feet of building entrances are from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. — effectively policing the hours a person can sleep or use a tent as shelter.

This ordinance makes life even more difficult for unhoused individuals, many of whom are already struggling. It criminalizes them for holding onto belongings that they might crucially depend on, such as blankets for nights when they’re unsheltered. The city has yet to invest in building sufficient storage facilities for the homeless community, which would at the very least offer an alternative to those who might otherwise have no choice but to store belongings on the street.

And the ordinance’s policing of when individuals can set up their shelters for the night is unacceptable. People who are sleeping exposed already face incredibly difficult sleeping conditions, from extreme weather to acts of assault and violence. The Shared Sidewalk policy creates yet another fear — the threat of confrontation with law enforcement for creating shelters outside the given hours. No one should ever have to face legal limitations on their ability to sleep or rest. And yet, this policy does just that.

For many years now, the city of Berkeley has left its homeless community without the crucial resources it needs — shelter, affordable housing and social support. But now the city is going beyond neglecting the homeless community. Policies like the Shared Sidewalk policy are actively working against some of Berkeley’s most vulnerable community members, stripping them of their comforts and self-made shelter.

If the city of Berkeley is truly worried about belongings and beds blocking sidewalks, it should consider helping individuals get off the street and into affordable housing. Making the lives of unhoused individuals more difficult is not the answer.

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