Impact of Homeless on Police, BART System. BPD: 75% of our Time Spent On Homeless

Did you know what the Berkeley Police Department spends 75% of all its time on homeless-related issues? I did not, and I’m astonished about how much of precious police resources are apparently being directed to a small population — less than 1% of the total population of the city of Berkeley.  This was mentioned in a recent Berkeleyside article, which highlighted that the Berkeley Police Department is actually in a state of crisis, with 80% of Officers seeking to leave the city.

Police have said previously that mental health calls take up a huge proportion of their time. Lt. Kevin Schofield said Monday that calls relating to homelessness also demand a significant amount of patrol resources.

Schofield oversees the Community Services Bureau, which includes four officers who handle community and neighborhood concerns. He estimated Monday that 75% of their day-to-day work involves homelessness in some capacity.

I was astonished and disturbed to read about the absolutely enormous amount of time taken up by “homeless” issues. Exactly what these issues were was not clarified, and clarification is needed. Residents of the city deserve to know how police are spending their time and clearly the City Council needs this information, as they are facing a mass exodus of police officers who are apparently quite fatigued with this problem, as well as struggling with the lack of support in a progressive city which has commissions and organizations, “Watchdog” committees, often demanding justification from police for their taking action and enforcing the law. If police can choose to work in a city which supports them in enforcing the law, versus one where they are scolded or harshly criticized for doing so, why would they choose the latter? Why would anyone choose to work in a more stressful environment where they are often kept from doing their job effectively? This is one of the questions Berkeley City Council must examine as they work to come up with policy on the homeless issue.

What does it mean that police spend 75% of their time on homeless related issues? Are these issues all related only to lack of housing, or do a large number of them have to do with serious mental illness or substance abuse? We dont’ know but it seems critical to understand what is going on out there.

That police are often prevented from enforcing the law in Berkeley, or instructed not to do so in the case of homeless individuals, is apparent in a recent recommendation made by the Parks and Waterfront Commission in Berkeley. According to Berkeley Municipal Code, these things are currently illegal to do at the Berkeley Marina, and yet all of these things are being done at the Berkeley Marina, and by large numbers of people:

6.20.250 Vehicle or trailer parking in marina areas.

A.    Permission from the Harbormaster must be obtained prior to parking any vehicle, trailer or boat in the parking areas within the marina area for a period exceeding 72 consecutive hours. If permission is not requested or granted, the vehicle, trailer or boat may be cited and removed from the marina area at the owner’s expense.

B.    Any vehicle, trailer, or boat/trailer combination parked in restricted areas, in limited parking areas beyond the allowed time, or in driveways, walks, or breezeways, may be cited and removed from the marina at the owner’s expense.

C.    The use of any vehicle for the sole purpose of storage while parked in the marina area is prohibited.

D.    No person shall perform repairs to a motor vehicle anywhere in the marina except in an emergency.

E.    Use of all bicycles, skateboards, roller skates, roller blades, and motor-driven or sail-propelled vehicles, except wheelchairs for the disabled and City maintenance and police vehicles, is prohibited on any path, sidewalk, pier, dock, float or gangway in the marina, other than on paths so designated for their specific use. The use of any vehicle for eating or sleeping for over four hours per day while parked in the marina is prohibited. (Ord. 6925-NS § 1 (part), 2006: Ord. 6645-NS § 1, 2001)

6.20.255 Vehicle, trailer, heavy duty commercial and over-sized vehicle parking prohibited on public streets in the marina area.

It is unlawful for the operator of any vehicle to stop, stand, park, or leave standing such vehicle, except when necessary to avoid conflict with other traffic or in compliance with the direction of a police officer or other authorized officer, or traffic sign or signal, on Seawall Drive, Spinnaker Way, Marina Boulevard and University Avenue between Frontage Road and Seawall Drive.

A.    Heavy duty commercial or over-sized vehicles are prohibited from parking in the above areas at all times. For purposes of this section a heavy duty commercial or over-sized vehicle is a single vehicle or combination of vehicles, with a commercial license plate, having more than two axels; a single vehicle or combination of vehicles 25 feet or more in length regardless of type of license plate; or a trailer or semi-trailer with commercial license plate or trailer identification plate. Heavy duty commercial vehicle or trailer shall include, but shall not be limited to, truck tractor, semi-trailer, trailer, trailer bus, trailer coach, camp trailer, mobile home, gantry truck, dump truck, moving vans and pole or pipe dollies. Excluded are commercial pickup trucks, tour buses, school buses, public transit buses, and paratransit buses.

B.    All other vehicles and trailers not defined as heavy duty commercial or over-sized vehicles in subsection A above are prohibited from parking in the above areas between the hours of 2:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. daily. (Ord. 6925-NS § 1 (part), 2006: Ord. 6803-NS § 1, 2004; Ord. 6711-NS § 1, 2002)

6.20.260 Overnight camping in marina land areas prohibited.

A.    Use of marina land areas for overnight camping or sleeping is prohibited.

B.    Use of campfires in the marina land areas other than in designated areas, without prior written permission of the Harbormaster, is prohibited. (Ord. 6925-NS § 1 (part), 2006: Ord. 6645-NS § 1, 2001)

This Berkeley Municipal Code info is found here:

On a recent outing to the Berkeley Marina, a friend of mine reported seeing 4 separate police vehicles at the Marina, apparently responding to calls.  It must be frustrating to the police to be called out there many times and yet prevented from enforcing the law.

And yet the law is not currently being enforced with regard to any of these sections of Berkeley Municipal Code, so that the Parks Commission recommends this signage be set up at the Marina:
Screenshot (3641)

And the Parks and Waterfront Commission is suggesting communicating with Berkeley City COuncil to request that they enforce the law at the Berkeley Marina. Screenshot (3642)

One person living in an RV at the Marina did get a parking notice, a notice that the vehicle had to be moved within 72 hrs.  This is a relatively weak law (since it only requires people to move every 72 hrs, not to leave the area permanently, and in itself does not prohibit using a vehicle as a residence) but it does seem to be about the only law that is being enforced relative to vehicle dwellers in Berkeley.  Ironically, this vehicle dweller, by expressing anger that the city is noticing her for 72 hr parking, is demonstrating an arrogant entitlement, in assuming that she does not have to follow the same laws which apply to all other people not only in the city but throughout the whole state.  These 72 hr parking laws do apply all over CA.  Screenshot (3645)Nomi Gonzalez 72 hr notice Marina RV

It puts Berkeley Police, and the city, as well as all parkgoers and those recreating at the Berkeley Marina, in a difficult situation when the city allows the Berkeley Marina to be taken over by vehicle dwellers. At last count, there were over 50 vehicle dwellers in parking lots and on roadsides at the Berkeley Marina. I’d like to see Berkeley create a designated area for vehicle dwellers to go, as I believe that vehicle dwelling is a very good option for “homeless” persons and travelers alike. However I also feel that camping in the city should be regulated and allowed for limited periods of time only, as long-term camping out easily becomes permanent squatting or homesteading.

Homeless issues also are increasingly impacting BART.

BART ridership has dropped 4.3 percent in the last year, accompanied by an increase in complaints about filth and odors on trains and platforms, and homeless people lying or sleeping on trains and platforms. BART directors had a recent meeting on this issue and is attempting to address this issue with increased station maintenance and trying to direct the homeless to supportive services.

However, BART was aware of these problems over 6 months ago, as indicated in this earlier article in the SF Chronicle, and  issued statements at that time that they were working on the problem at that time.

BART has issued a statement about the homeless crisis and its approach to working with this issue on its trains and property:

This article includes this statement:

It is understandably frustrating for commuters to be crowded out of trains by persons who are there for reasons other than commuting. BART simply does not have space for people to set up short term residency.  We also need to maintain clear paths in our station hallways for evacuation in the event of an emergency.  Persons lying down in station corridors is a life safety issue for everyone in the station.

BART was also aware of these problems back in March 2016 when this article appeared.

And this article.

And 9 years before that, people were complaining about homeless on BART. An explicit description of the problem is included in this man’s blog:

The title is blunt but I really did not know how to soften it. I really do not like it when I see/encounter homeless people on BART, whether they are using BART as shelter/bed or asking passengers for money.

Why don’t I like it? I think we, as passengers, pay a good amount of money to get to our destinations by BART. We don’t expect BART to be spotless, with great service, or luxurious (we really just expect BART to be on-time, safe and not filthy), but most of us really do not want to be bothered or threatened by unauthorized people like the homeless.

I’m not heartless. I recognize that homelessness is a huge problem in SF and I wholeheartedly support some of the initiatives like SF Homeless Connect. But I don’t want the homeless seeking help/shelter on a BART trian, or even a BART station!

Why not the homeless? Because 99.99% of the time, they smell like alcohol, urine, defecation, trash or sweat…or all of the above. The majority of them that I’ve encountered on BART are mentally unstable. Today, one homeless man somehow snuck onboard and was aggressively asking people seated in my area for “some help”. He didn’t take no for an answer. If you ignored him, he kept on asking you until you look at him. If you said no, he doesn’t leave either and starts to question if you have pennies, nickels, dimes..etc. Even as you say no or you don’t have change, he continues to shake the cup in front of your face. Worst of all, he smelled terrible!!! The fact that he stood next to you and refuses to leave only meant that we had to endure his smell for a long long time. It was bad….I had to breath with my mouth and even then, I was afraid of what type of taste his scent would leave in my mouth. It was an extremely heavy odor.

In short, it’s been a long while that this problem of homeless people living on BART, sleeping and lying on BART trains, has been happening.

Given that BART is now so crowded — trains are packed at all times of day, not just rush hour — and so space is at a premium, it becomes even more problematic when people use trains for sleeping or lying down. The degree of annoyance and problems caused to other passengers increases, the more crowded the train is and the less space available.

There’s even a YELP site specifically for posting about problems on BART.

Such problems on BART are apparently so interminable and vexing, that someone has created a website to document the problems :

Here’s one article on that site about problems created for many by a man lying on the platform.

Title: “When someone asked him to move he was pretty nasty”

Title: “WHo Needs Trivago? Here is the Cheapest Hotel in the Bay Area.”

Person lying on the floor of a crowded BART train: BART homeless person on floor

Others have described their problematic experiences with homeless on BART in other places, eg in this article.

Like the rider who photographed the sleeping homeless man with lice, I take pictures and complain not only to BART police but BART Watch as well. But I only receive the standard lines: “We’re sorry, we’re working on it” or “Do they need assistance? Sleeping on BART is not a crime.”

One individual claims that problems on BART were one of the major reasons he moved out of Oakland:

Update: I should probably state that I moved out of Oakland and a huge reason was BART.

One of the more serious problems associated with the homeless or street people on BART, is the fact that these people may be carrying lice and/or bedbugs. Someone actually uploaded a video on YouTube in which one sees a closeup of many bugs crawling all over a person sleeping on a seat on a BART train. It’s enough to permanently scare one away from riding BART!

THere are other places where “homeless” persons can potentially cause problems, such as city libraries. I use the term “homeless” in quote marks because it’s not really possible to determine if someone is without a home simply by looking at them. Just because a person looks bedraggled or dirty or acts oddly, does not mean they are homeless. However, in articles about this issue, this assumption tends to be made that all these persons are “homeless”.

Problems with homeless in SF city libraries was written about here.

And here is another story about this issue.

Problems with homeless at a library in Santa Ana are explained here.

Inside the building, signs warned people to avoid restrooms where some homeless use sinks and even toilet water to bathe themselves and wash their clothes. Some of Santa Ana’s down-and-out used the study carrels to look for jobs — others shot up drugs, their syringes found discarded in planters and even a box of toilet seat covers.

Security guards carry syringe disposal kits on their tool belts.

The library has been “a great place to hang out. You get something valuable,” said Haley, a 14-year-old high school freshman at USC College Prep. “Now, it’s just uncomfortable.”

“It’s outrageous. The homeless are an epidemic in the city, and it’s preventing families from using our award-winning library,” said Peter Katz, a retired postal worker and 50-year resident of Santa Ana.

Some library staff have been afraid to come to work because of problems caused by homeless or mentally ill persons, as explained in this article.

The problem is so vexing and widespread, there are even scholarly articles on the matter, as here. ANd there are courses on the matter as well.

At the Berkeley Public Library, as this article recounts, a day of craziness ensued as a man pounded on the library door for help and a gunman pursued him into the library. In another case described in the same article , a library worker was assaulted by a homeless woman who was chronically mentally ill.

Helen Harris is a circulation supervisor for the public library system in Berkeley. Earlier this year, she was physically assaulted by one of the hundreds of library users she sees each day. The female attacker was homeless and unstable. Harris, like other library employees, was trained to resist an attack without hitting. Moreover, she didn’t want to escalate the violence by fighting back, even though the woman tried to kick her and punch her face.

“She had come in here before, and every time we asked her to leave she would go into bad and threatening language,” Harris says. “She can be very intimidating. She knows that there’s not much we can do but sit there and look at her and ask her to go out. We can call 911, but if she hits me, I can’t defend myself. So we got a restraining order against her.”

Another Berkeley LIbrarian says she sees about 30 homeless people in the library every day:

Many of the homeless are regular library patrons, and at times they turn to the librarians for help. Some librarians feel they must serve as social workers to help users find shelter, food, and other public services, says Jane Scantlebury, a reference librarian at the main branch in Berkeley, where she sees about 30 homeless people every day.


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