Berkeley residents march for homeless community’s rights

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Berkeley residents, led by the “Where do we go?” campaign, marched to Berkeley City Hall on Wednesday to protest the treatment and forced removal of unhoused individuals.

The march was organized by unhoused Berkeley residents and activists in response to efforts made by the California Department of Transportation, or Caltrans, to clear multiple homeless encampments across Berkeley. The march began at the Seabreeze and University Avenue Interstate 80 homeless encampment and demonstrators walked more than two miles to City Hall.

The purpose of the march was to start a discussion on where homeless people should go if they cannot sleep on sidewalks or in parks according to Andrea Henson, lead organizer of the “Where do we go?” campaign. Under the city of Berkeley’s sidewalk ordinance, it is illegal for any individual to sleep on a commercial sidewalk.

“All the residents are willing to face arrest and citation and they know if they say no and don’t move, all of their belongings will be thrown in the trash,” Henson said. “They’re willing to lose everything they own to stand up for themselves against Caltrans.”

In the past, Henson added, unhoused residents who left their belongings unattended faced the risk of having Caltrans workers seize their property and throw it away while they were gone.

During the march, demonstrators held a sit-in on the steps of City Hall and used a bull horn to garner the attention of City Council members, according to Berkeley Homeless Commission member Aidan Hill. Hill said the point of gathering at the civic center was to make sure that city officials heard the stories of homeless individuals.

“The community dedicated to unhoused rights has rallied around this banner of ‘Where do we go?’ and at the march they mentioned that if the city really cared about addressing homelessness, they wouldn’t take away people’s shelter,” Hill said.

The march was successful in promoting the discussion around the rights of homeless individuals and making them feel more empowered, according to Henson and Hill. Hill added that demonstrators attracted the attention of two City Council members and four staff members. The march, according to Henson, was only one part of a larger effort to improve people’s standard of living.

In the past month, according to Henson in an email, members of the “Where do we go?” campaign have attended a City Council meeting, practiced “civil disobedience” and organized multiple marches to capture the City Council’s attention. Hill said the poor treatment of homeless individuals was a major factor in residents organizing movements, such as “Where do we go?”

“People should think about what it means to be a sanctuary city but also have people be arrested for sleeping in a park or on the sidewalk,” Hill said. “People have basic human rights, including shelter, and if the government at any level doesn’t protect its people, then they have the fundamental right to protect themselves. That is what people at Seabreeze are doing.”

Contact Aditya Katewa at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @adkatewa1.