When people consider the homeless problem, primarily their focus is on how to house or shelter the homeless. However, particularly when the “solutions” given for homelessness are overly idealistic, and involve, for instance, building housing in the city for every single homeless person — something which could take decades, if it ever could even happen — the result is that “unworkable” solutions to homelessness lead to ever more serious problems for neighborhoods and ordinary citizens, when the failure of city, state and federal governments to take care of this problem results in the government essentially appropriating the sidewalks and streets of YOUR neighborhood, in order to house the homeless.
My position is this: there should NEVER be any homeless camps or campers on residential sidewalks and streets. Perhaps these campers need to be allowed to stay on sidewalks and streets in commercial or industrial zones until such time as sufficient shelters/housing or sanctioned campgrounds can be set up for them, but there is no reason whatsoever, why any city needs to allow camping in residential areas of cities. Which means, in any part of the city or on any city street within an “R” zone on the zoning map of a city. For instance, this map shows the zones in the city of Berkeley:
Berkeley Zoning Map
These pictures show the zones:
These images show that the overwhelmingly large area of the city sidewalks and streets are residential. Still, there is plenty of space in industrial and commerical areas for people to sleep on sidewalks as well as temporarily live in vehicles.
I would suggest that all those concerned about this issue, argue this point to their city leaders.
Meanwhile…what can be done when camps/campers ARE camping in residential areas, or in any other site that is causing serious negative impact on adjacent parks, businesses, or properties?
Sometimes, if area residents respond fast enough, police will remove a camper if someone has just started to set up their tent or squat in a particular place. There is benefit in acting IMMEDIATELY when you see a problem first develop. Don’t wait, reasoning that “well, it’s only one person.” Once that person has squatted there for 3 months or had 5 to 10 others join them and the camp grows bigger, it can be much harder to get the camp removed. Acting early is the best approach. I’ve heard reports of 3 different situations where someone began trying to set up their bedroom on a sidewalk in a residential area — twice in Berkeley, once in Oakland — and neighbors who called police stated that police removed them the same day, within a matter of 2 or 3 hours.
Know the laws in your area. Unfortunately, it has proved the case, with both Berkeley and Oakland, that city leaders appear to be instructing police specifically to NOT enforce laws that are on the books. This can be seen most clearly in the case of people living in vehicles on property at the Berkeley Marina, where they are continually in violation of at least 5 different laws, and have been for over a year, with impunity — the city has allowed them to continue to violate city laws and cause serious nuisance for Marina users and residents, as well as park-goers and Marina businesses, for this whole time.
However, in some cases the city may be more obligated than in others to enforce city laws. For instance in Berkeley, there are laws that were passed by ballot measure, which prohibit the city from using parks for any purpose other than the recreational purposes for which those parks were intended. This means that it’s illegal for people to camp in public parks at night. This is why we dont’ see large numbers of tents all over the public parks in Berkeley, which would most certainly be happening if Berkeley parks did not have the good fortune to be protected by this law.
So if you see someone camping or sleeping in a Berkeley city park at night, you can call police and they will be removed. People can sleep there during the day, but not at night.
Though every city has laws prohibiting people from living in vehicles on public streets, as a result of a lawsuit in Los Angeles, where the city was prohibited from totally banning all sleeping in vehicles on public streets, many cities such as Berkeley and Oakland have now unfortunately used this ruling to justify an extremely irresponsible overpermissive approach, such that there are essentially NO legal restrictions on living in vehicles anywhere in the city (except for the Berkeley Marina, where ironically this vehicle dwelling is occurring in largest numbers). As a result, the only reliable way to deal with problem vehicle dwellers, is now to use parking restrictions to combat the issue. This means using either the 72 hr parking rule (vehicles cannot park more than 72 hrs in one spot) or 2 hr parking limits or other parking limitations.
You do not have to wait until a vehicle has been parked in one spot for 72 hrs, in order to call it in to police. Upon receipt of your call, the parking enforcement dept will simply go and mark the vehicle and give the vehicle 72 hrs from the time it’s marked, to be in that spot. So you could call a vehicle in to be marked for 72 hr parking, two minutes after you see it park in a certain spot.
The best number to call in Berkeley to get the 72 hr enforcement done, is 510-981-5890. (weekday business hours only) That is the direct line for parking enforcement. If you call the BPD non emergency number, it can take longer, because they then have to forward the info to their parking enforcement detail.
Also, if you live in an area with 2 hr parking limits, and you see a camper vehicle or RV park in a 2 hr zone, you can call the same phone number 510-981-5890 (during weekday business hours only) and ask the city to enforce 2 hr residential permit parking in that specific area. Tell them the street name and the area you want enforced, eg, 1600 block of Parker street, or what have you.
For Oakland, the best way to report vehicles parked over 72 hrs is not by phone but by email. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Be forewarned though, that in Oakland, there is such an enormous problem with abandoned vehicles, that it can take the city well over a month (30 days) to enforce the 72 hr parking law…which means that for all intents and purposes the city cannot enforce this law in a meaningful way.
For the 72 hr parking law, note that cities will generally put a notice on the vehicle when they mark it, letting the owner know that it’s been marked and has only 72 hrs to stay in the same spot. Parking enforcement is not obligated to put this notice on the car (which in Oakland they do by pasting a sheet on the windshield, while in Berkeley they only slip a red colored form under the windshield wiper). The notice is a “courtesy notice” only, and I’ve been told by the police that they dont’ always put this notice on vehicles. The reason they don’t need to put the notice on your car, is the same reason police don’t put a 2 hr notice on all cars when they park in a 2 hr zone. Namely, you are supposed to know what laws apply to where you are parked, and the 72 hr limit on parking in one spot, applies on all public streets, everywhere in the state of California (and beyond).
The city’s approach to the “homeless” (though I disagree that people living in vehicles are homeless –they have homes, their cars are their homes, sometimes quite elaborate ones) is formed by oversight by the “compassion police”, so the city treads very lightly, actually too lightly, on any circumstances which may be associated with homelessness, regardless how much nuisance is involved.
The city would actually do better to NOT put the 72 hr notice on vehicles that residents call in because people are living in them in their area, because not giving them notice would facilitate getting them cited and towed. Which is what should happen when people continually violate parking laws and cause nuisance.
But since the city puts the notice on the vehicles, you might notice that since the notice is a loose piece of paper, which could fly away in the wind, the notice really just might “fly away” in the wind. It might fly away, or any random passerby might remove it, perhaps for bedtime reading. I think it’s more effective to get these vehicles cited and towed when the notice just happens to “fly away” or be plucked off the vehicle windshield, for random bedtime reading by passers-by.
To get the city to enforce 2 hr parking zones in Oakland, call 510-238-3099. THe city can enforce the 2 hr law much better than the 72 hr law, perhaps because for violations of the 2 hr law they are able to cite and obtain fines from residents capable of paying the fines. For the abandoned cars, the city ends up on the losing side, paying to tow vehicles that the owners never claim.
You can find a list of helpful phone numbers for Oakland City departments here:
Oakland Phone numbers
Sometimes it is sufficient to discourage the long term vehicle dwellers, if you simply repeatedly call Parking enforcement to get them marked for 72 hr parking.
If there is garbage piling up around the vehicle, or other associated nuisance, you can report the vehicle/situation on the 311 website for either Berkeley or Oakland.
The more nuisance or problems associated with a homeless camp or vehicle, the more likely the city is to act on the issue. Keeping a record of problems, and/or reporting them on the SeeClickFix site, can help document the history of problems associated with any camp or vehicle.
Both Oakland and Berkeley have laws on the books that prohibit RVS or other “oversized” vehicles from parking on ANY city street overnight, but it’s an open question as to whether or to what extent these cities are willing to enforce their own laws on this. Residents could certainly try calling in to police, though you might have to do so in the middle of the night based on the way the law is written.
In Berkeley, the prohibition is on parking RVs or large vehicles on city streets from 2am to 5am, Berkeley Municipal Code section 14.40.120. In Oakland, in the R-1 residential districts, no vehicle over 27 ft in length may be parked at any time as shown here
And this document shows Oakland blight ordinances, which include a prohibition on RV parking on public streets.
Another possible approach to use with vehicle dwellers, applies to vehicles with out of state plates.
I discovered that it’s illegal for people to keep out of state license plates when they reside in a new state. They are required to get new registration in the state where they are living (or squatting, as the case may be).
One can report so called “cheaters” who dont’ get the in state registration as required, here:
I dont’ think the CHP walks on eggshells around the “homeless” as do Berkeley Police, so this may be a better way to go with problematic vehicle dwellers with out of state plates.
OTher approaches to take involve making complaints with the Berkeley or Oakland City Council, or the City Manager’s office. However, it’s my experience that such complaints do not tend to result in immediate action. The city keeps tally of the number of complaints on any given situation, and may, after several months, act if there are enough complaints. But the city may just as often refuse to act in spite of a veritable mountain of complaints. I called in to complain about one particular situation and was told (anecdotally) that “thousands” of people had complained about this, yet nothing had been done.
With the rise in nuisance caused to cities by the explosion of homeless camps, there has arisen a new need — that of designing cities, sidewalks, streets, parks and parklets so as to discourage, deter or totally prohibit loitering or camping in these public places. When Berkeley requested feedback on some new plans for development in part of the city, I was quick to point out that it is pointless to create “parklets” for the public now, because any parklet (large area on a sidewalk) will most definitely be quickly appropriated by vagrants, transients, bums and homeless persons, and used for perennial loitering and/or camping. There is one such space I often pass by. THere’s a bench, on a wide space in the sidewalk along a commercial corridor in Berkeley, and there is a group of 3 to 4 bums who have inhabited that bench 24/7 for the last few months. As far as they are concerned, the bench is their private property — their bedroom and living room — and it’s completely unusable by the general public. I called the police about this and was told that the police are “not allowed” to ask them to move. I called the city and was told that “we will send this comment to City Council” which essentially means nothing will be done.
So why bother creating any new park, parklet, or indeed putting a bench anywhere in public space, since any such structure will just attract nuisance, and never be available to be actually used by the “general public” meaning, ordinary non-bum residents? Bums are also part of the “public” but they are not the “general” public, they are a specific part of the public which in terms of discussing use of public areas, is best termed “winos/bums/vagrants” since that is what they are, and they do not use public areas in a “general” way like others. They specifically tend to loiter and appropriate public spaces, which the “general” public does not do. Note too that “ordinary people” who become homeless due to some terrible misfortune, do not tend to end up sitting on a park bench drinking alcohol all day long, day after day for 3 months and longer. This behavior is not identical to “homelessness” — it is better classed as wino-ness or bum-ness.
We have to start getting smart and if cities wont’ take proactive measures to deter or prohibit problematic loitering by bums, then please, don’t create new spaces for bums to hang out. And don’t build sidewalks wide enough to accomodate tents. Make narrow sidewalks everywhere, only wide enough for pedestrians, so that tents can’t be set up in these places.
These are examples of anti-camping architecture. There are others too…the sky’s the limit as far as how imagination can be employed to protect neighborhoods from nuisance caused by “bum-ming” or camping on sidewalks.
What if the city does nothing about serious nuisance?
What can be done if there is a big problem with a homeless camp and/or campers in your neighborhood, and the city refuses to do anything about it? This is happening in several areas, more so in Oakland than in Berkeley, and it is a very serious problem. Cities have laws for a reason, and the reason is not only to protect citizens, but to keep public order. Laws exist in order to keep situations from descending into (or escalating into) such a scenario of lawlessness, that people’s quality of life, if not their very safety, becomes seriously threatened, and violent confrontations become more possible. But what we see with the homeless situation in many West Coast cities, is that cities are tolerating an escalation of lawlessness, as more and more illegal camps are set up, including in residential neighborhoods, and more and more people live in vehicles all over the city, including on residential streets and right in front of other’s homes.
The politics of progressive/liberal cities in particular, unfortunately contribute to the escalation of lawlessness. Liberals can become highly misguided as “compassion police”. I have seen countless discussions about homelessness and homeless camps in Bay Area cities, where anyone who takes any position other than allowing the homeless to camp wherever they want, is accused of “lacking in compassion” and/or “hating the homeless” and of course this is the ultimate criticism of any progressive person, to imply that they are a compassionless “hater” who simply basks in their own privilege. It implies that they are simply Donald Trump in disguise. The hypocrisy to this “compassion” argument, of course, is that by politically requiring anyone to be compassionate, you never get real compassion, because compassion, like any other emotion, cannot be legislated, it can’t be compelled or forced.
As well, the progressive’s “compassion” seems to be twisted in that you can apparently only be “compassionate” for the marginalized, the downtrodden and those at the bottom of society — including criminals. But apparently, being compassionate to one’s own neighbors, such that one would not want them or their children to experience serious nuisance, is not allowed.
By contrast, I believe in real compassion, which issues out of one’s spiritual depth, and not from political obligations or tiresome virtue signalling. When you have real compassion, you’re actually less vulnerable to the “compassion police” in that you dont’ feel compelled to “be compassionate” to demonstrate how politically correct you are — because deep down you just trust your own heart and know that you want the best for all people. So, I believe that those who feel most compelled to “demonstrate” their compassion, constantly showing how correct they are, are probably the people who in reality have the least compassion.
Sometimes, as well, by having “too much compassion” (it’s not really a case of too much compassion, it’s a case of a deep seated dysfunctional need to advocate for those perceived to be “downtrodden”) for one group of people and none for another, some are really demonstrating their contempt for ordinary residents and citizens.
This argument has gotten to the point of sheer insanity, where it’s being used to justify the mindless over-permissive tolerance of any homeless camp/camper situation whatsoever, no matter how much nuisance is involved, or how much real danger or crime or garbage. This approach is also highly ironic, because in the view of most who have common sense, allowing poor people or those with serious mental illness to live on the streets, is certainly not compassionate.
I have seen people shamed for complaining that they can’t take their toddler to the local park, because there are bums in the park engaging in threatening or scary behavior. I have seen such people scolded for trying to protect their children, as if children were not entittled to be protected and it was simply a shameful variety of privilege to want to have safe playgrounds for children. Unfortunately, a large number of so-called liberal-progressives have given up using logic or facts to make any arguments, and all they do now is engage in ad hominem attacks. Apparently there is no longer a need to actually argue with someone if you can just use one sentence to totally dismiss them as a racist or hater.
There is something that has been creeping into our minds, those of us who’ve observed our city’s disgusting indifference to serious nuisance in our neighborhoods — or, quite possibly, the city’s conscious intent to abuse our neighborhoods, using them to “store” homeless people, abandoning its own responsibility to care for them and foisting them on neighborhoods, where, city leaders reason, the “nice progressives” will not have the spine to stand up to such abuse.
What’s been creeping into our minds is the somewhat scary idea that, if the city steadfastly refuses to enforce its own laws and protect our neighborhoods, then we may end up, forced by the city’s abject delinquency, to protect our neighborhoods ourselves. We may need to create groups of residents who go and confront people camping in our neighborhoods, or loitering in our parks, and tell them to leave. Or who demand that they leave. We all strenuously work to avoid such confrontation, since we understand the risks and dangers there. We try every other means available to us first, and often for weeks or months, even a year, to get the city to act to protect our neighborhoods. But if the city refuses to take responsibility for these serious problems, then we may end up having to solve the problems ourselves.
This is not only theoretical, as I have heard and read several reports of neighbors starting to talk about working to solve these problems themselves. What would that look like? I don’t know, as I don’t think it’s ever happened here. It would definitely be newsworthy, should such situations occur. People are incredibly patient, though that patience eventually wears thin. Cities need to step up and act before confrontations occur, which though they could be dangerous for everyone involved, may start to be necessary as the level of nuisance in some neighborhoods becomes too severe.
To give an example of how neighbors could act for themselves when police or the city refuse to act, is this story of what happened in Calgary, Canada. In this particular case, everyone was safe and the neighbor’s efforts were successful. Residents of a local homeless camp had stolen things from area residents, and so the residents, after seeing their stolen items locked up, just went and broke the locks that the thieves had put on, and got their own things back.
The residents said they took matters into their own hands out of frustration with what they claim is inaction on the part of Calgary police.
So the residents got back their stolen things, as shown here: .
There are I believe, rather few places in residential neighborhoods (as opposed to commercial or industrial or other out-of-the-way areas) where the nuisance caused by homeless camps has grown severe, and the city has totally failed to do anything about it. But in the places where that occurs, wherever it is in the nation, it seems to me that it would make a very important and newsworthy point if a group of concerned citizens stepped up and confronted the campers themselves and demanded that they leave. To demonstrate that it’s really the whole neighborhood which is concerned, it would ideally be a large group of people, not just one or two. This type of action, whether it be regarded as a “protest” or as an actual effort to abate a nuisance, just might make a point which a city is unable to hear any other way.
One point the group could make, is that it really isn’t safe for neighbors to have to confront homeless persons/camps and try to solve problems on their own. It’s wrong for any city to put neighbors and residents into such a position by repeated failure/refusal to attend to an ongoing serious nuisance. When police refuse to take action and residents end up feeling like they can only solve issues by forming into an “Angry Mob”, that is not a safe situation for anyone.
I have read and overheard some area residents, who are fuming angry about some squalid homeless camps, particularly if those camps are in city parks or very close to houses, and have heard some talk about “taking matters into our own hands.” One of those did, and the San Francisco Chronicle reports that a Lake Merritt jogger allegedly “dismantled a homeless camp” (however, from the news story, it is not clear that it was a “camp” — rather it looks like it was a dispersed pile of garbage) and threw the stuff into the trash.
More here: https://twitter.com/ShelleDione/status/1005291054386446336
And here: http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2018/06/09/lake-merritt-neighborhood-swept-up-in-new-controversy/
Discussion about this here:
See the video about it here:
Although I don’t think it’s fair to remove a homeless camp contents without first giving notice to the camper, much less throw someone’s belongings into the lake, there remains the fact that allowing anyone to set up a garbage strewn camp at a very prominent location in this city park, is highly problematic.
In fact, that location is not only prominent, it has been used for a long time for wedding photographs.
The onlookers berate the jogger with obscenities. It seems that the jogger who did this, may be a man with a criminal record, based on information from the FB discussion of this issue. However, his impulsive actions, inappropriate though they are, do symbolically represent the frustration of many individuals with the nuisance caused by homeless camps.
A day or two after the incident, he apparently grabbed/stole someone’s phone as that person was filming him, and was arrested later on:
Dumping someone’s belongings in the lake or trash isn’t a way to solve this problem. But it also doesn’t help at all with the problem to just defend people’s right to live in garbage piles in city parks.
As the Facebook post about this issue says, saying “I’ve a loving person” while you walk by one disgusting mess of a camp after another, is pointless. Something has to be done other than tolerate the transformation of our public parks and jewels of the city into garbage strewn slums and lawless zones or outdoor insane asylums, filled with drug addicts and the seriously mentally ill.
There are many more appropriate places where homeless people can camp. The city ought to be insisting that city parks are off limits to camping, homeless or otherwise. To allow homeless camps to be set up in what the city of Oakland itself calls the “Jewel of Oakland” is very irresponsible and negligent of the city.
However, rather than impulsive clean-ups and destruction of someone’s belongings, if the city’s failure to act to abate nuisance becomes so serious that it amounts to negligence, I think a better strategy, would be a team of neighbors getting together and working as a team to abate the nuisance in their area by helping the homeless move to a more suitable site. They could, as a community, request that homeless persons to move out or stop camping in a certain place. And if the campers didn’t move, neighbors could work together to dismantle the camp, and help the homeless person by driving them and their things elsewhere and help them set up camp in a more suitable location…such as on the lawn at city hall, or on the sidewalk in front of a City Council member’s home. They could also compensate them for the inconvenience of having to move, for instance by providing them a bag of groceries and food, and other supplies.
Cities CAN draw the line and prohibit large nuisance situations, as San Francisco is finally stepping up to do, after years of passive tolerance of large tent camps and years of repeatedly offering the same shelters and services to the same people who had no interest in shelters or service but just wanted to live in tents on the street. Finally, SF is stepping up and saying NO to this nonsense, and other cities should imitate this approach. Kindness and compassion should only go so far before cities draw the line and prohibit nuisance behavior.
We’re excited about the progress, but of course we can’t rest on our laurels,” the mayor said. “There is going to be a continued, dogged effort to make sure these tent encampments don’t come back.”
Translated to the street, that has meant stepped-up patrols by police, street cleaners and outreach counselors to make sure settlements don’t resprout in their traditional spots — places such as Fifth Street under I-80 and along Division Street in the Mission. In many places, metal police barriers now line sidewalks that used to be covered in tarps and heaping shopping carts.
“We’re not trying to criminalize people, but we are being very clear about letting them know it’s not healthy, not OK to just live in a tent on the street,” Kositsky said. “I would never endorse something that’s just mean. We really are about trying to give people better lives.”