Campus cannot just move homeless people

CAMPUS AFFAIRS: City, campus have to provide adequate options for homeless residents before evictions

Illustration of police officers carrying backpacks, tents, and sleeping bags
Lily Callender/Staff

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Update 1/30/2020: this editorial has been updated after the Editorial Board gained more information from campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof.

When UCPD administered a “clean up” of People’s Park on Jan. 17, a handful of the park’s residents were left on the side of the street with their belongings in trash bags. While given advance notice of the clean up, several of the park’s residents were left with minimal alternatives when displaced. As policy concerns persist regarding the status of these individuals, it is now more important than ever to create viable solutions for Berkeley’s homeless community. 

Throughout the years, the residents of People’s Park have gone without many basic needs resources. For example, although sanitation is a concern for city and campus officials alike, it’s impossible to deny that the park’s public restroom is less than inviting. While the campus has a responsibility toward its students, it also has a responsibility toward the park’s residents.

Although residents were offered sufficient housing alternatives, many individuals simply cannot rely on temporary solutions. The campus should be sedimenting permanent solutions with organizations that work directly with community members. With the ongoing housing development project aiming to serve members of the homeless community in addition to future students, how will the campus take the necessary steps to accommodate both groups?

To further help the homeless residents in the park, the city needs to lend the campus a hand. The city’s sidewalk ordinance was put in place to supposedly address sanitation issues, but the policy itself is a thinly veiled attempt at limiting the times and locations in which homeless people are allowed to exist. The campus and city should work together to best support these people — pushing residents out of the park does literally nothing to enact humane solutions.

There is a full-time social worker employed by the campus to assist the park’s residents, so it is heartening to see that the campus is taking the initiative in making sure their needs are met. This is definitely encouraging — hopefully, as the campus works on the supplemental housing they have planned for People’s Park, they’ll be seeking more input. 

Until then, though, the campus should consider focusing more assets toward supporting the park’s occupants or, if that’s infeasible, uplifting the organizations that do. It’s encouraging to know that coalitions of community members, students and Berkeley residents are trying to help provide for the homeless community. There are myriad people who work to support the homeless community, and the campus should be joining forces and complementing these groups on how to develop viable solutions.

Regardless of who owns the park, finding viable, long-term alternatives for the park’s current residents will require a team effort. Campus will ultimately benefit from working closely with these organizations, and to the communities that will be affected, to serve them adequately.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the spring 2020 opinion editor, Simmy Khetpal.

A previous version of this editorial incorrectly implied that the campus has not attempted to improve the condition of the People’s Park bathroom. In fact, the Editorial Board could not find any evidence that the campus has not made any effort to do so.

A previous version of this editorial incorrectly implied that the campus does not have support systems in place for occupants of People’s Park. In fact, the campus employs one full-time social worker to care for the inhabitants of the park.

A previous version of this editorial incorrectly implied that the campus did not provide sufficient warning to occupants about when officers would arrive. In fact, officers alerted occupants a week in advance and some occupants left voluntarily before the cleanup date.