Copwatch Responds to Misinformation about City's "Homeless Response"
On September 16, the Office of the City Manager, Dee Williams-Ridley, wrote a “Letter to Neighbors on Homeless Response”. We feel an urgent need to respond with corrections so that our community can be accurately informed on what’s going on in our streets.
We have already documented numerous mass evictions of unhoused communities in tents and we have reason to expect mass evictions of vehicle homes in the coming month. The City’s attempts to normalize and justify the displacement of our unhoused community members does not go unnoticed. The streets are watching.
Call to Action at the end!
The City Manager’s Office writes:
"With the 2018 passage of Measure P, our residents have generously voted to tax themselves to support these efforts, and the City Council provides additional general fund revenues to address homelessness."
According to the Ballot Measure description, Measure P funds were intended to pay for “navigation centers, mental health support, rehousing and other services for the homeless, including homeless seniors and youth.” Of the funds raised by the Measure P tax, over $900,000 is going to the “Homeless Response Team'' which includes overtime pay for two BPD officers ($57,920) as well as Public Works staff and a City Manager's Office liaison to carry out “cleanups” at various unhoused communities in Berkeley. We are concerned that this use of funds does not align with the spirit of this tax.
"Additionally, staff collected debris from encampments at least once each week, with a crew of two public works staff, a police officer and a staff person from the City Manager’s Office."
This is false. At the RV and tent community by 8th & Harrison (just one of many stops across Berkeley) for at least 5 months Copwatch has documented 3 Public Works employees, 2 BPD Officers (sometimes 3), and 1-2 City Manager’s Office staff.
"Collecting debris" is misleading. What the Letter calls “debris” here has often been people’s essential belongings. Frequently residents have not been present to object when their belongings are taken. In recent weeks, the City has even taken people's things but then left alone the 1-3 trash piles that residents have made for pickup. (Residents have requested a dumpster numerous times which the City has not provided. When a neighboring business offered their bins for use, the City took them away). We believe this missuse of taxpayer dollars amounts to harassment, intimidation, traumatization, and theft of belongings.
"For example, we partnered with Caltrans and Alameda County to successfully close the large encampments at I-80 and University, conducting weekly outreach for three months and eventually moving 50 people into hotel and shelter beds."
Seabreeze was home to an estimated 90 people, accounting for the increases in population due to the displacement of local encampments (ie: Gilman St and Ashby/Shellmound). Not all residents at Seabreeze were offered alternative shelter and some could not access the shelter offered due to their disabilities. We're still seeing the rippling impacts of this mass eviction in residents who've been separated from friends or chosen family, and who've had to move to ridiculously unsafe areas like Ashby West where they are unable to receive services (Ashby West is entirely enclosed by freeway on and off ramps; Within just weeks of moving there, one resident’s animal companion was killed by a passing car).
"The Safe RV parking program will provide temporary parking accommodations for up to 40 households living in their RVs, and is designed to be as low barrier as possible."
The opening of this Safe Parking site is already being leveraged over residents as the City's excuse to enforce parking regulations that make it drastically more difficult to live in a vehicle in Berkeley. The same 2019 Berkeley Point-In-Time count that the City Manager cites in her letter also estimated at least 161 RVs and 157 cars/vans were used as vehicle homes in Berkeley. Those who are not among the 40 RVs who park at the Safe Parking site will be subject to parking enforcement: changing their location every 72hrs, getting their home towed for expired tags, not being able to park from 2-5am in certain areas, and not being able to park their oversized vehicles at all in certain areas. Instead of persecution, the City could be part of a solution: Fund efforts to help residents get registered and to pass smog check; Direct funding and personnel to help and not hurt poor people.
“...our values as a compassionate city that welcomes people of all backgrounds means that we treat our unhoused individuals with respect and dignity.”
This statement is beautiful, however it rings hollow in the context of Berkeley’s failure to provide accessible and dignified resources and shelter for residents with no where to go. Mental health, PTSD, and ADA violations are used to justify criminalization of the unsheltered. We are failing to provide compassion and care to our most vulnerable and economically precarious community members; our aging population and people living with physical, mental health, and cognitive disabilities.
CALL TO ACTION!
Speak up at City Council Tuesday, September 28 at 6pm!
Item #23 on the Consent Calendar this coming Tuesday, September 28 will be the amendment of BMC Section 14.56.070 which would expand the 3-Ton parking ban to more streets in Berkeley. An average RV weighs 5 tons. An average midsize SUV without belongings in it weighs 2.5 tons. Many of the streets that will be added to the BMC are places where people are living in vehicles right now. The passage of this amendment would mean increased displacement of people living in vehicle homes. Make public comment, speak up!