All posts by Site Administrator

Living in Parking Lots: Good Option for the Homeless?

When you’re homeless, in many ways you are better off if you have a vehicle to live in. You have more privacy, you have more security, and you have access to electricity through the car’s battery, you have more mobility and options, than you would if you lived a tent on the sidewalk or in a homeless shelter. .
THere are more places you can “park” or camp.

In fact, in the US, Walmart in particular is well known for having a policy of allowing people to “camp” in its parking lots, as described in this news story:

https://www.fastcompany.com/3021967/the-hidden-ecosystem-of-the-walmart-parking-lot

And this one in the New York Times:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/14/us/walmart-parking-rv.html

There’s even a Reddit thread about camping in Walmart Parking lots, which includes general advice for camping in vans across the US, written by someone who had travelled around the US for a year and stayed in Walmart lots much of the time.

https://www.reddit.com/r/vandwellers/comments/4z1ylb/the_logistics_of_living_in_walmart_parking_lots/

Some people have been able to live for years in Walmart lots, as this video indicates about a man living in a Walmart lot in Flagstaff AZ for 7 years:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKKevvSQ2s4

However, even though Walmart mostly welcomes campers, there are about 900 Walmart stores where parking lot camping is not allowed, or about 23% of all US Walmarts:

http://www.walmartlocator.com/no-park-walmarts/

Particularly given the “explosion” of homelessness in the US, and on the West Coast of the US in particular, one might guess that there may be limits to Walmart’s generosity, as well as limits to what can be accomplished when people who are truly homeless exploit a system more oriented to travelers, vacationers and retirees. As the number of truly homeless increase compared to the number of “grey nomads” using Walmart lots as stops on a retirement journey, Walmart may need to rethink its parking lot policies, particularly in some areas. In some cases they are in fact less welcoming, as was demonstrated here:

There is a difference between allowing people to temporarily stay in store parking lot on their way from one place to another, verus allowing people to live in that parking lot for months and years on end.

People who essentially take up permanent residence in shopping center parking lots are pushing the envelope on what is acceptable or what is reasonable, and are likely to end up being asked to leave when they overstay their welcome, particularly if the number of people permanently living on Walmart property increases. Michael Stankovic found this out after being forced to move on after spending 2 years living in his truck in a Coles Store parking lot in Australia.

https://au.news.yahoo.com/video/watch/31930538/homeless-squatter-forced-to-leave-shopping-centre-car-park/

Given that the population of homeless, as a whole, has a much higher rate of substance abuse and serious mental illness, than the population at large, there are different phenomena associated with homeless camps as opposed to standard campgrounds. As well, there are great mental and emotional stresses related to homelessness and joblessness, which can lead to social stresses. All of these point to a need for services and oversight and regulation of homeless camps. Hence, I believe that the idea of a “self-governing homeless camp” is not arealistic one, and can’t work on large scale. It may work in a few isolated situations, particularly for a short period of time, but at some point in most cases a community of squatters or homeless campers that exists out side the law, will become problematically lawless. For this reason I think that whereas the idea of using parking lots to allow homeless to live in vehicles there is a valid one, without adedquate oversight, rules/policies and security, these situations are likely to degenerate.

Here’s an example of police having to intervene in an out of control situation with a homeless family in a Walmart Parking lot:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Lpwg-DbKB4

Walmart may want to protect themselves from legal problems that could rise when homeless commit crimes, including violent crimes, in their parking lots:

http://wgme.com/news/local/homeless-charged-with-murder-in-connection-with-falmouth-walmart-parking-lot-stabbing

Or this violent crime perpetrated by a homeless man in another Walmart lot:

http://www.tennessean.com/story/news/local/robertson/2017/02/26/springfield-police-man-stalked-woman-walmart-tried-stab-her/98458578/

In this case in Orange County, homeless were removed from a Walmart parking lot:

https://www.ocregister.com/2010/10/07/homeless-to-be-removed-from-walmart-parking-lot/

Here, homeless were asked to leave a Walmart lot in Lodi:

http://www.lodinews.com/news/article_c1315dfe-498c-547e-a1af-065a326863d5.html

And this article states that as the number of truly homeless in Walmart lots is rising, the store is becoming less welcoming:

http://www.bendbulletin.com/localstate/4619382-151/wal-mart-parking-lot-in-bend-houses-a-community

“Also, more and more — especially in California — there are people becoming homeless and staying longer term in the Wal-Mart parking lots, which is one reason stores prohibit it,”

In AUstin TX, store managers often have to ask homeless to leave Walmart parking lots due to customer complaints:

http://kut.org/post/express-checkout-why-austins-real-people-walmart-were-forced-move

“…I was told I could no longer stay at Walmart,” she said. They had a security guard come over and tell Jim and I that we were no longer able to stay overnight and pretty much told us not to come back.”

One homeless woman had been staying for a while in a Walmart lot, only to return one day and find her car and trailer had been towed:

http://girlsguidetohomelessness.com/2009/08/17/trailer-all-belongings-towed-thanks-a-lot-walmart/

The need for more and better solutions for those reduced to living in vehicles is growing, as discussed in this article about the rise of people living in parking lots and forests in rural Arizona:

https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona-best-reads/2017/12/03/rural-housing-shortages-pushing-people-into-forests-parking-lots-few-options/849754001/

Here, a blogger has written a guide of sorts, to how to find a place to park when you are homeless:

http://guide2homelessness.blogspot.com/2004/11/finding-parking-place.html

This article explores finding ways to organize the use of parking lots for homeless people:

https://www.kcet.org/shows/socal-connected/simple-solution-to-help-the-homeless-0

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Homeless Camp Dangers: Garbage, Vermin, Fires, Disease, and The Thankless Task for Police Clearing Out the Camps

Dangers associated with homeless camps are ubiquitous and are a primary reason that unsanctioned,  entrenched homeless camps, generally consisting of one or more tents or structures, should never be permitted in any locale.    Homeless camps get set up, become full of garbage or biohazards, and have to be cleared out and removed.   Homeless camps cause many forms of nuisance for neighborhoods and area residents, and are generally the subject of numerous complaints.  When they are removed, the removal invariably results in tensions between the homeless and cities and police.  In this post you’ll see two videos in which a homeless activist confronts police who are in the process of cleaning up a camp. The activist continually refuses to cooperate with the police request that he stand back on the sidewalk, and issues a near constant stream of profanities and accusations.

Partly as a result of the lack of adequate homeless services, shelters and an organized federal, state and local structure to shelter or house the homeless, and partly as a result of homeless people refusing to accept the shelter that cities provide, many homeless sleep on public sidewalks, in parks, and in random camps set up around the city.  Particularly when these camps become entrenched, become collection points for stolen bicycles, end up full of garbage,  or full of urine and feces, they become public health hazards and have to be cleaned up.  Hepatitis A outbreaks have occurred at camps in San Diego and Los Angeles, as reported in this article and this one, about the problem in San Diego and this one about the problem in Los Angeles.  Apparently the problem has also occurred in Santa Cruz as reported here and may be happening throughout the state.  The Center for Disease Control reports that these outbreaks have occurred in the homeless in California, Kentucky, Utah and Michigan.  These outbreaks threaten the nation as a whole.

Given that so many people who are homeless suffer from serious mental illness, it’s not surprising to find people literally living in piles of filth and garbage.  Dirty camp

De facto homeless camps pose other dangers — fires have started in many of them, including some in Oakland and one in Berkeley, and these fires pose serious dangers to adjacent structures.  A list of fires associated with homeless camps in the East Bay,  in chronological order:

(1)There was a fire at a homeless camp in Oakland on March 27th 2017, as reported in this article.

(2)  There were two fires at Oakland homeless camps in May and April 2017. 

This article gives information on the fire that occurred on April 13 2017

The fire started at 7:30 a.m. on East 12th Street; five tents were destroyed and a dog died. Everyone else got out okay.”It was very scary. I panicked, I didn’t know what to do. I was worried about our lives,” said Lalonnie Rivera, fire victim.

(3) This article gives information on the fire occuring on May 12 2017. That fire destroyed 20 tents, according to this article.

Some of these may be arson attacks, as explained in this article.

(4) There was also a fire at an Oakland homeless camp in July 2017. 

(5)There was a fire at a homeless camp in Oakland on August 1 2017.

(6) There was a fire at a Berkeley homeless camp on Gilman Street on November 12 2017.

(7)A fire occurred at the camp at Adeline and Stanford on November 19 2017, as reported on the First They Came for the HOmeless FB page.  

(8)On November 25th 2017, a fire burned a homeless camp in Oakland.  

Fire at Oakland homeless camp

Fire at Oakland Homeless camp

 

(9)Another fire occurred at another Oakland homeless camp on December 18th.

(10)A fire occurred at the Berkeley City Hall camp on January 11 2018.

(11)Another fire occurred at the same Berkeley City Hall camp on February 6 2018.

(12)Yet another fire occurred at a homeless camp in West Oakland on February 12 2018, killing one person there.Apparently this fire began in a plywood structure that someone had built as a makeshift house — which goes to demonstrate the danger of these wood structures, which many prefer to tents.

(13)Yet another fire occurred at the West Berkeley Encampment at 2nd street on February 16 2018.  

Also, a stabbing occurred at the Aquatic Park encampment on February 15 2018. 

So within the space of only one month in Berkeley, there were 3 fires at homeless camps and one stabbing at a homeless camp.

REgarding the Oakland camp fire where there was a fatality:

OAKLAND — One person died early Monday after a fire broke out at a homeless encampment West Oakland.

Crews responded just before 5:25 a.m. to the blaze, which appears to be in the 2600 block of Northgate Avenue, just north of Sycamore Street. Fire officials were not available immediately to comment. A yellow tarp at the scene covered the body.

The person is believed to be an adult male.

The fire gutted a makeshift shack, and burned other debris in the area. The homeless encampment is underneath a freeway overpass and near BART tracks.

It is one of the largest encampments in the city and there have been other fires there in the past.

An article about the danger of fire at homeless camps appeared in the SF Chronicle here.
As well, the garbage associated with homeless camps can become a target for arsonists, as reported by the city of Berkeley and also in the East Bay Times, as the city is dealing with a string of small debris fires.  We found charred debris at two different sites of homeless camps in the East Bay. A pile of charred debris was found on the street median at Adeline and Oregon, just a couple days after the homeless camp there was given an eviction notice.

Adeline at Oregon burned items 5

Burned debris, at site of Adeline Homeless Camp

 

Another are where charred debris was found was  on the Bay Trail near a homeless camp, just across the street from Costco in El Cerrito.

Bay Trail spur garbage 3

Charred garbage pile at homeless camp by Bay Trail

 

A fire which began at a homeless camp in December 2017 caused the massive fire that burned up several homes in Bel Air.

In addition to these physical problems in the camps, another problem with the camps is that they often have criminals residing in them.  These are dangerous people who should not be permitted to just randomly squat on public land in our cities, but this is in fact what is happening.  The fire at the Berkeley city hall camp on Feb 6th, was caused by someone selling methamphetamine, who had a prior criminal record.  The Feb 15th stabbing, which resulted in the victim being permanently paralyzed, was committed by a man on parole for a felony conviction for a robbery, who had several burglaries on his record.

All of these problems — garbage, feces/urine, the danger of fire, disease, vermin, the collections of stolen bicycles — are part of why I believe “unsanctioned” homeless camps should never be permitted anywhere in a city.  People who are homeless generally cannot do other than sleep in public places, and this must be permitted, but “camps” should not be permitted.  A very simple way to both allow the homeless to sleep in public places but prohibit entrenched camps, would be to pass a law prohibiting anyone from occupying a public place for more than 12 hours.  This would prevent camps from getting started.

When police move in to clean up filthy camps, homeless activists call this a “raid”, and will often respond by refusing to cooperate or becoming aggressive.  Their intent often seems to provoke police, as well as to create situations they can attempt to legally exploit through abuse of the legal system. One technique often used is to refuse to vacate a camp when asked to do so, and then to accuse the city of “confiscating” or disposing of belongings that they have failed to remove by the posted deadline.  Police dismantle homeless campWhat are “belongings” that the city should store and make available to them to pick up at a later time, and what is simply garbage, even biohazardous material, that should be disposed of? The distinction is not clear.   As well, it is not clear what responsibilities, if any, the city has towards people who abandon their belongings on public property.  If I were to take a tent and set it up in a public place, like a street median or a sidewalk, and then fill that tent with garbage and feces, is the city required to “make an inventory” of my garbage, and save it all for me to retreive at some later time? Or can the city simply throw the garbage away?  What distinguishes “belongings” from garbage?  These questions need to be explored and investigated, but as you can tell from my questions, I think it’s nonsense to suggest that someone who may or may not be homeless, could just put garbage in public places and then require the city or the police department have a responsibility to inventory and save that garbage.

Attorneys representing Berkeley Homeless activists are suing the city of Berkeley alleging that the property of the homeless was improperly seized.  Mike Lee has sued the city in small claims court over seizure of his property.  In each of the cases referred to by these activists and their attorneys, camp residents were given notice to vacate the camp. It seems to me that if they chose to disregard that notice, all remaining property should not be stored at all but simply disposed of, since the camp was never given permission to be set up there in the first place.  It’s different when a tenant is evicted from an apartment that was formerly their legal home — they have legal rights there.  Homeless people who illegally set up permanent camps in public places do not have legal rights to homestead on public property, attempting to permanently appropriate public property, nor to demand that their property be stored if they refused to remove it by the date of the eviction notice requiring them to leave the area.  The fact that one’s belongings could be thrown out if one attempts to homestead on public property, is a good deterrent to such illegal homesteading, and cities should make full use of such deterrents to prevent this nuisance behavior, while at the same time, working to guide homeless people towards places which are appropriate for them to stay.

This problem of filthy homeless camps and the associated garbage, could be greatly reduced if the federal, state and local governments provided adequate government-run shelters or camps for the homeless.  People would be given a minimal amount of space to store their belongings, and would not be able to haul in additional belongings that didn’t fit in  their allotted space.  The homeless would have to face the music that, being homeless, they would not have the right to accumulate unlimited amounts of belongings that they had no space to store.  Anything put on public property would be subject to disposal.  This limitation on how much one can own and store while homeless, would be one of many excellent motivations to people to get out of the state of homelessness and stand on their own two feet, so that they can have more.  Cities should strategize on the benefits of creating such disincentives for homelessness — to poke people out of their inertia and ensure that people dont’ get too comfortable in a lifestyle that in many ways can be a nuisance and burden on others.  Help people and by all means give food clothing and shelter to all in need, but dont’ allow people to remain in a state of unhealthy dependency if they have the ability to live independently.

In these videos you can see a homeless activist named “Stacy” continually harassing the police who are clearing out a dirty homeless camp which has received multiple complaints. Note that he constantly refuses to follow police orders that he stand back on the sidewalk and issues a stream of profanities towards the police.

This is an excerpt of his confrontation with police as written up on the First They Came for the Homeless FB page:FTC Stacy confronts police Dec 22 2017

FTC Stacy confronts police Dec 22 part 2

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSOZLS2RS7o&feature=youtu.be

The only problem I see here is that the City of Berkeley and Berkeley Police Dept waited so long to clear out this camp.  This woman has been in this spot for MONTHS, and this camp should have been cleared out as soon as it was put up, when it became obvious that rather than simply sleeping in a public place, this camper was intending to permanently appropriate public property for private use as a residence.

Another problem associated with homeless camps and the clearing out of camps, has to do with the development of “homeless activism” around this situation.  Among the reasons why people end up homeless or even choose to be homeless, we may now have to include the fact that continually setting up illegal homeless camps around the city, may be a new and fun way to cause serial nuisance and give the middle finger to cities, to police, to area businesses and residents who are not happy about these “sudden neighbors”.  In other words, for people who dont’ have enough protests to go to, here’s another fun form of protest — just plop yourself down anywhere and everywhere and dare the city to remove you.  Then scream obscenities at police and city workers when they come to remove the garbage pile you’ve created, and threaten them all with lawsuits.  Yes, this could be a lot of fun for people who just love to cause problems for others.

Squandering Resources in the Attempt to Help the Homeless and Poor

We all want to solve homelessness and get everyone housed.  However, the devil’s in the details.  How do we do that?  As expected, it can be a lot more complicated than it would appear at a superficial glance.

It turns out that even when there’s money to create housing or shelters, and put people in that housing or these shelters, there can be signfiicant problems and waste.

Let’s begin with the city of Albany’s attempt to move the homeless campers out of the Albany Bulb in and into other housing/shelters.  It wasn’t working to have homeless people move into a city park, the Albany Bulb, and camp anywhere and everywhere — often hauling in building materials and constructing elaborate shacks, and bringing in chain link fencing to create dog runs for aggressive pit bulls.  The “homeless” population grew, and people going to the park for recreation or exercise were increasingly uncomfortable.  So the City moved to evict the campers.  The first squandering of resources occurred when several agencies helping the homeless banded together to sue the City of Albany.  So now the city had to spend a lot of money which it might have otherwise been able to spend on other things, simply fighting in court for its right to evict campers from the city’s own land.

Once the city won the right to evict the campers, they spent $570,000 on assistance and setting up temporary shelters in trailers next to the Bulb. They spent a lot to set up these shelters, but the shelters were hardly used.  The legal aid groups representing the Bulb residents made a serious of disingenuous arguments about why the trailer shelters weren’t any good:

“They also said many Bulb residents would not have been able to access the trailers due to physical disabilities, there would not have been enough beds for all evicted residents, and that the trailers would not have offered people the right to privacy they enjoyed in their homes on the landfill.”

So the city spent money offering she shelters which weren’t even used.  One wonders how Bulb residents with physical disabilities had no trouble living in a place accessible only by often rough dirt roads and narrow trails, with no running water, no toilets, no showers, and no trash facilities, up to a mile distant from the nearest paved road, but apparently were unable to enter a heated building with toilet and shower facilities, just off the paved road.  One wonders, too, how people attain a “right to privacy”  when they are given free shelter.  Albany Bulb castle

Though each Bulb resident who moved out got $3000 to assist them in obtaining permanent housing, apparently few of them used that to land such housing.  Who knows what they spent it on — perhaps they bought a tent and furniture and put it on the sidewalk, or perhaps they spent it all on drugs in one big happy party weekend.  Once again, wasted resources in helping the homeless.

There are many government agencies that offer support and housing subsidies to the homeless.  You may have read my story about the support given by Shelter Plus to the wrong kinds of people — John Kaipaka received a housing subsidy from them in 2013, in spite of the fact that John had been a serial squatter since 2002 at least, and had 7 unlawful detainer lawsuits on his record.  The owner of the apartment he moved into in October 2013 would file the 8th unlawful detainer suit on him, and would be forced to stand by helplessly for 7 months as John Kaipaka proceeded to destroy her entire apartment, tearing out cabinet faces, ceiling tiles, plumbing fixtures, electrical fixtures, doors and other parts, ripping out each fixture and selling it, apparently to feed his addiction to methamphetamine.  Why was Shelter Plus giving a housing subsidy to such a destructive and depraved person, who did not deserve it, and who would exploit their help in order to continue on a path of serial squatting and destruction of other’s property?  This was not only an enormous waste of resources, but it was also unethical, as the housing subsidy provided to John  simply enabled him to engage in squatting and criminal activity and destroy someone’s property with impunity.

The two prominent leaders of the “First they Came for the Homeless” group, Mike Lee and Mike Zint, both received housing assistance.  They both obtained housing through the “Rapid Re-Housing” program, which has the aim of providing a series of graduated subsidies, in order to immediately get people off the streets and into housing.  The subsidies are graduated, starting initially with higher subsidies and gradually reducing the subsidy, with the aim that the individual eventually is able to stand on their own two feet and pay for their own housing.

In spite of the fact that as leaders of this political group, both Lee and Zint were very well versed in laws about camping in public places,  assistance offered by homeless service agencies, and opportunities for assistance with housing, apparently neither of them understood that thru Rapid ReHousing, they were not receiving a lifetime housing subsidy.  MIke Lee claimed that he was never told that his housing assistance was coming through this program.

After receiving notice of his rent increase, Mike Lee said this  — and indicated he would be “fighting” the attempt to require him to start paying more rent:


Greetings folx
Well here we go again. Yesterday I caused an e mail to be sent to you concerning my continuing battle with the HUB.
This is the response I got from Council Member Linda Maio“Hi Mike,
We are in an imperfect world, that is for sure.  
Anyone who has been housed through the Hub using rapid rehousing dollars has been told that the rental subsidy is time-limited and that there are step increases in rent leading towards the person sustaining the rent themselves. Rapid rehousing is very different from permanent rental subsidies such as Section 8 that limit the rent to 30% of income. Some people have gotten room mates to offset the costs. I wish it were different. “


I appreciate Council Member Maio’s rapid response but I must respectfully disagree with her statement. At no point was I told I was being extended “rapid rehousing” In fact while I’m familiar with the term I am an opponent of such a strategy in that it has never been successfully implemented excepted in limited cases. To clarify rapid rehousing I took the opportunity last night to ask Paul B about my situation, He then confirmed what I already knew about the strategy but couldn’t share with me how it was implemented.
This morning I did some initial research and discovered the funding source for rapid rehousing is HUD. I can confidently state that rules were not followed in that I was never informed or consented to rapid rehousing, You will not find my signature on any document, contract, etc that proves an existence of informed consent. If such knowledge was held by me in accepting this housing then Council Member Maio’s statement would be correct. What I do have is a lease and a program blurb stating what my rent contribution is for the next year.
At no time was I told there would be increases. Again you will not find my signature on any document which details those increases such as date and amount.
Council Member Maio goes on to say that some people have gotten room mates to offset the cost. Is this allowed? I doubt it. You know me. If you tell me “Hey Mike you can have room mates why shucks I’d personally solve the homeless problem by myself by building bunk beds and installing them in the living room. I’d be going around saying to people “Hey buddy got a tent?” “I’ve got a back yard you can set up in.” “Hey buddy living out of your car?” “I’ve got a parking space you can use, lots of hot water and food in the fridge,” Yes indeed I double dog dare you to tell me I can have room mates. I’ll make it a personal mission to fill this place. Obviously my point here is I believe if the Council Member thinks about it a realization will occur that encouraging me to have room mates is the last thing you want to do.
At this time I would like to set this aside for a moment and await judicial review of this matter.
For quite some time now I have been an informal liason between the Council and the homeless community, As such each one of you is aware that I personally speak with people everyday and explain to them that if they want housing they have to go through the HUB. Yes I’ve also explained to people the challenges of doing so but remain insistent they apply. Once the DailyCal article came out, there was a buzz on the streets. I spent a lot of time revisiting people saying see it works there’s no reason not to at least try. For Thanksgiving I hosted a dinner for members of five different encampments to show them the reality of my changed situation. Everyday before that dinner and even after people drop by to shower, charge cell phones, find something to eat. More importantly they find a reason to hope and a strengthened resolve. Now I’m planning a Christmas dinner which will be even bigger because the community when asked has pitched in what it can.
The reason I share this with you is not to blow my own horn. After all my housing circumstance only changed because I followed your advice. Consider this for a moment. I a single individual sharing a very real positive experience with people still in the doorway and hopefully there is a positive reception to this message and they take those steps they need to get off the sidewalk. Now if this positive is transformed into a negative experience what do you think the outcome will be? I can state without a doubt homeless people will dig in their heels and cite the fact that if they can do this to Mike they’ll do it to me, What do you think the community reaction will be? 95% of this household is furnished by your constituents do you really think they will remain silent?
At the end of the day whether you are concerned about this situation or not I will not voluntarily move. I will contribute my share of the bargain as I understand it but will not allow the initial agreement to change.
I spent two years to get here I’ll spend the next two years fighting to keep it, The reasonable and rational thing to do which is beneficial to all parties is to allow the agreement to run its course over the next two years as agreed upon. Accepting the fact that the HUB may have made a bad deal but their error has nothing to do with me. By allowing them to strip me of my housing in essence assigns any penalty related to their error to me. This is inherently unfair.

 

As for Mike Zint, he was also taken by surprise when he received a rent increase.  He posted on the First They Came for the Homeless group about this:

Mike Zint gets rent increase

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MIke Zint rent increase

 

When they received notice of a rent increase as of Jan 1 2018, in line with a gradual reduction in the size of the subsidy they were receiving, they both expressed surprise and indignation, and announced that they would soon be homeless again.  Why were these individuals ever given help through the Rapid ReHousing program, which aims at getting people on their own two feet and paying their own way, when they were both unable or unwilling to pay their own way?  Were they not told what program they were obtaining assistance from?  Again, a squandering of resources — giving people assistance through the wrong type of program.  You can’t sign someone up on a program that aims to get them “standing on their own two feet” when they have no interest in or ability to stand on their own two feet and simply want a lifelong housing subsidy.

Speaking of housing subsidies…as is fairly well known at this point, it is difficult for low income persons to obtain housing subsidies in the state of California.  Many waitlists for public housing are completely closed, such as the one in San Francisco.  Though the waitlist for Public Housing and subsidized housing in Los Angeles is stated to be open, the details show that the waitlist was most recently open for 2 weeks in October 2017, and had not been open prior to that since 2004…more than 12 years prior.  So one could have to wait 12 years to get the chance to be on a waitlist…and then, once on the waitlist, the average wait time is 53 months, or over 4 years.  “Persons who were issued a voucher in the preceding 12 months waited an average of 53 months on the waiting list1.”

Given that landing a spot in public housing or with a Section 8 voucher is so difficult, given the fact that demand far outstrips supply, actually winning a spot would be much like winning the lottery — something to celebrate. However, there is evidence to show that a great many people who obtain public housing, end up squandering this opportunity.  Taking a look at the San Francisco Superior Court Website, and doing a case search under “San Francisco Housing Authority” reveals the problem.  San Francisco Housing Authority owned the public housing in the City of San Francisco until the point a few years ago where the city sold off all its public housing.  

A search of Unlawful Detainer cases filed by the San Francisco Housing Authority reveals that over a period of 17 years from year 2000 to year 2017, the SF Housing Authority filed about 3050 Unlawful Detainer cases.  As of 2014, San Francisco owned 5000 units of public housing — it had fewer in 2000.  If we assume that the average number of units of public housing from 2000 to 2017 was in the range of 3000 to 3500 units, then the number of unlawful detainer cases filed from 2000 to 2017 would indicate that over a span of 20 years,  San Francisco Housing Authority would file an unlawful detainer suit to remove a squatter or nonpaying tenant from 100% of public housing units.  SF Housing Authority Unlawful Detainer suits 1

SF Housing Authority Unlawful Detainer suits 2

These statistics demonstrate two things.  First they indicate the enormous expense for city government in providing public housing — not only the subsidies, and the repairs and maintenance, but also the legal expense to remove those who have stopped paying rent.

But second and more important — a very large  number of people who are receiving very generous housing subsidies, are unable to follow through on their responsibility to pay a very reasonable and low amount of rent for housing in a part of the nation where housing is very expensive.  Many people are being given housing assistance, who fail on their responsibilities that are required to keep that housing, and then have to be evicted, perhaps becoming homeless again, and then again demanding help from the public.

What kind of accountability and responsibility is appropriate to require of people who receive housing assistance? How much help do we give to people, and watch it go to waste, before we stop helping them?  What do we do with people who are unable or unwilling to help themselves, and simply demand more and more assistance?  These are questions that need to be explored, as we attempt to address the difficult and challenging homeless quandary.  Homeless man on sidewalk

Shopping Carts in All The Wrong Places: A Trashy, Tragicomic Photo-Essay

Most people are quite aware of the problem of garbage associated with homeless camps — — which so often includes the quintessential symbol of homelessness — the shopping cart.  Shopping carts, shopping carts, and more carts — far from any shopping center, piled high with — well let’s just say, those aren’t groceries in there.

I’m sure many feel they are too aware, and would really like to not have to be so aware of this ubiquitous and unsightly problem.  So there may actually be some intentional blindness about shopping carts out there, some cart-numbness that we all have to cultivate, in order not to be concerned about all the sad carts everywhere. To work against this cart-numbness, here I am with my camera, aiming to bring the carts back from their sad state of marginalization by looking to document their misadventures.

Homelessness and garbage can be depressing subjects.  So let’s not let ourselves only be depressed. I’m by nature a lighthearted and creative person, and I like to lighten things up by taking a whimsical view of things.  So in order to bring a  bit of wry humor to the often neglected tales of the downtrodden carts, I want to start a photographic adventure using this quirky and quintessential symbol of the homeless person  — the shopping cart — and share images of shopping carts in all the wrong places.

I’ll also show images of other sorts of “carts” in odd or unexpected places, when I find some of those which are interesting.  This photographic essay is not so much intended to show the problem of garbage and homeless camps, as to be a somewhat trashy tragicomedy of the “collateral damage” of homelessness — the misadventures of poor old shopping cart!

I will keep adding to this photo essay as I find more misadventurous carts in all the wrong places.

Cart in wetlands in mud Dec 11 2017
 

Shopping cart in mud of tidal wetlands, near Point Isabel

 

Cart in wetlands 2
 

Sad shopping cart stuck in the mud

 

Cart in Bay Trail Dec 11 2017
 

Tall and narrow cart, an evocative sculpture on the Bay Trail 

Cart in Bay Trail and dog walker
 

Dog walker approaching  Tall and Narrow Cart

 

Cart Meeting of the carts Dec 11 2017
 

The meeting of the carts: Bay Trail, El Cerrito, Dec 11 2017

 

Carts multicolor cart meeting
 

Multicolor meeting

 

Carts and garbage
 

Truly derelict and trashy carts — next to park sign about tidal wetlands

 

Cart and garbage
 

Overloaded cart on Bay Trail December 2017

 

Carts lonely at the curb corner
 

Carts and Cones at the Curb

 

 

Cart run aground -- with stolen goods
 

Criminal cart — full of stolen goods, stripped wire

 

 

Cart stripped wire
 

Pile of stripped wire below Criminal Cart

 

Cart not out of the woods yet
 

Cart not out of the woods yet — near SeaBreeze Camp

 

IMG_1742
 

Illiterate Cart

 

The Wild Ride of the Baby Stroller Cart:   https://youtu.be/sDThi34TOjg

And other shopping cart misadventures soon to come.

 

Addressing the Homeless Crisis: Why “Housing First” Cannot Work with Exploding Numbers of Homeless

As is discussed in this San Francisco Chronicle article, the problem of homelessness is growing in the United States, mostly on the West Coast, while it’s decreasing in other areas.

Cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley and San Jose are seeing rapidly exploding numbers of homeless.  In Oakland, for instance, as is reported in this article and  this article , the number of homeless increased 37% to 39%  in just two years.

In studying the approach that many cities take to solving the homeless problem, one finds a “Housing First” approach highly recommended, for the last many years.  The basic idea of this approach, as described in the Wikipedia article and the following several articles, is the view that “the solution to homelessness is housing”, which is the City of Berkeley’s primary articulated approach.  Utah was a poster child for this approach, when the city realized that it was less expensive to provide housing to all the homeless in the city, including the chronically homeless, than to pay for the police and emergency services continually required by those living on the streets.

The basic idea of the “Housing First” approach, is that if people are homeless, what they need is housing, so you just give them housing. This sounds so elegantly simple.  It worked in Utah, why not in California? Where there’s a will, there’s a way, isn’t there?

Let’s take a look. We dont’ have to look very far to start to see some problems in importing a solution from Utah to California and the rest of the USA.

When Utah first began taking this approach to solving homelessness in 2005, there were only 2000 homeless in the entire state, whereas in California at the present time, in December 2017, there are at least 138,000 homeless people, or about 70 times as many as Utah was working with.

Homeless in USA 2015

In the city of Oakland as of June 2017 there were 5629 homeless in Oakland, and the city of Berkeley estimates about 1000 homeless in Berkeley as of October 2017.  As of January 2015, it was estimated that there were 115,738 homeless in California, and as of January 2016 that figure climbed to 118,142 people homeless in California.  The numbers of homeless climbed sharply from 2016 to 2017, as in Los Angeles the number went from 44,000 to 58,000, in San Francisco the number went up by about 1000 from that in the Jan 2016 report, and  in Oakland the number went up 37% so this would mean another approximately 2000 people.  This means that with the increases in those three cities alone, the number of homeless in the state of California would now be at least approximately 138,000 people, out of the nation’s total 550,000 homeless.  This means that the state of California has 25% of all the homeless people in the entire nation of 50 states.  By contrast, Utah has less than 1% of the number of homeless in the USA at the present time.

Homeless in LA

Homeless in Los Angeles

 

Hence, use of the “Housing First” model for solving homelessness, is daunted by the sheer numbers, and the exploding numbers.

In addition, the overall cost of housing and cost of living in Utah, is lower than that in the coastal cities of California, where most of California’s homeless are located.  Rents are 90% higher in Los Angeles than in Salt Lake city.  Rents in San Francisco are 226% higher than in Salt Lake City.  Rents in Oakland are 118% higher than in Salt Lake City.  These housing costs reflect costs of land, costs of construction, government fees, property taxes and other regional costs.  Hence even when “affordable housing” is built in California, it costs more to build in California, particularly in Coastal California, than in Salt Lake City or elsewhere in Utah.    Standard housing subsidies for those in need are very difficult to come by — in Berkeley, the last enrollment for Section 8 housing was for 5 days in March 2010, and during those 5 days, the city received 37,000 applications, of which only 1500 were selected to be placed on a wait list, and a wait list does not guarantee housing.  People can remain on a wait list for Section 8 housing for many years.  Section 8 Wait list Berkeley

Homeless individuals are given preferential treatment over everyone else in need and assisted by funds specifically designated for the homeless.  However, these funds are not unlimited.  The city of Berkeley has limited funds, as well as limited space (city-owned land) to build permanent housing for the homeless, and it also has limited space and funds to build homeless shelters.
The city will spend $51 million to house 89 individuals in a Berkeley Way 6 story building, where units would cost $578,000 each to build.  For the cost of housing 1 to 2 people in a $578,000 unit, the city of Berkeley could have spent $525,000 to buy this 30 unit apartment building in Memphis TN and house 30 to 60 people in it, for a total of 10% less.   Memphis Apartment building for sale

This shows some of the folly of building housing for the homeless in the cities with the most expensive housing in the United States.  You get so much less for your money than if you had housed them elsewhere.  So for the same dollar amount spent, you can house far fewer people in Berkeley or Oakland or San Francisco, than in Memphis, St. Louis, Tucson, Salt Lake City, or so many other places in the US.  People will argue that the homeless in Berkeley will not accept being moved to Memphis, but this view is problematic in several ways, not least of which, it assumes that people have a right to housing in whatever city they happen to show up in.

Yet even if Berkeley and other California cities divert funds and resources from other areas toward more housing for the homeless, there aren’t enough funds or space to meet the growing demand.  Which means that there will still be homeless tent camps on city streets, and people living in vehicles on city streets.

Cities need a plan about how to deal with those homeless whom they are unable to house in permanent housing. or whom they either cannot place in homeless shelters, or who wont’ accept space in shelters.

One of the biggest problems with our current approach to solving homelessness, is that we are doing it on a city by city basis.  It’s assumed that each city is responsible for housing or sheltering those who are homeless in that city.  Yet as the homeless population explodes, and as costs of housing rise, this approach will increasingly be seen as untenable.  As the City of Berkeley pointed out in its recent letter to a judge who demanded that the city present a plan for housing its homeless, Berkeley has twice as many homeless as Hayward or Fremont  (both of which are larger cities, Fremont has about twice the population of Berkeley) while some cities in Alameda County have no homeless people.  As pointed out above, and as is seen in the map, some states have a very small percentage of all the homeless in the USA, while California now has about 25% of the total number of homeless.

These imbalances point to the need to resolve the homeless crisis at a state and national level.  Homelessness  is truly a national and state emergency.  People who are homeless are in much the same position as those who lost homes in a fire or flood, or any other natural disaster.  They need help, they need shelter, and particularly as this problem grows enormously in size, federal/state emergency funds should be available to go towards this purpose.   Just like we provide shelter for flood victims with FEMA and UN assistance, or set up shelter in refugee camps for refugees, we should be setting up large state and federal camps for the homeless, where people can be gradually processed and some type of housing found for them.

Creating a central hub where homeless people can be directed to shelter and services is vital, as many cities are discovering, when they see the shortcomings of the homeless being met with a confusing array of service providers.  I believe that this central hub for helping the homeless should be a federal one.  The homeless would sign up with a federal office overseeing all homeless services, and then be directed to the shelter and service hub nearest their present location, to obtain shelter, food and clothing, as well as needed medical care.  If a certain city has no more shelter space, the homeless would be sent to a city that did have shelter space.  This approach would help prevent  specific regions or cities from being overburdened, and from homeless people languishing on sidewalks and outdoors, because cities dont’ have enough shelter for them.  As well, it would help prevent nuisance encampments, and protest encampments, whereby homeless protesters are enabled to extort or bully the city of their choice into giving them whatever they ask for  — much like the “First they Came for the Homeless” camp is doing in Berkeley, by engaging in a sequence of encampments in prominent central places in the city for about 1.5 years now.  They dont’ want shelter — they are demanding permanent housing.  In Berkeley.  Under a federal or state run program, it would no longer be possible for homeless protesters to bully a particular city,  simply showing up wherever they want to live and demanding to be given permanent housing, because cities would no longer be responsible for housing all the homeless who show up there.  Cities would not be expected to magically provide housing where there is no space for it, or funds for it when there are insufficient funds.

Do people have the right to “live” wherever they please, even if they have no resources to be able to live there?  I say no, and I’m going to call this the “I want to live in Beverly Hills” logical fallacy.  There are some homeless activists currently in Berkeley who are emphatic that it’s a fundamental civil right that anyone has the right to live anywhere, regardless of whether they can afford housing.  These activists insist that one has the right to set up a tent on public property to house oneself, as such shelter is a fundamental right.  However, if we analyze the trajectory of this concept of a civil right to live just anywhere at all, we find multiple problems.  First, I think that the assertion that there’s a “civil right” to live anywhere one pleases, is a misunderstanding, and perhaps willful distortion, of the court rulings which have indicated that people have a right to sleep in public places if there is no other shelter available.

People who can’t afford any housing and are dependent on aid freely given, cannot be picky about from where they obtain this aid.  Initially, the homeless would need to take shelter where it is offered.   By ensuring that sufficient space is available for those in need, the government would have leverage to prohibit people camping in public places — and thus drastically reducing the nuisance, blight, crime, health risks and other social problems attending the homeless phenomenon.  As people in shelter camps worked with service providers, they would be directed to places where housing and/or jobs were available.  Once people got established, had a job and income and were able to stand on their own two feet again, then they could explore options and free choice about where they wanted to live.  They would be able to move to any other place where they preferred to be.     But what would not be permitted would be to stay in a place without a job, without housing, and without money to pay for anything, and to continue to cause a nuisance by appropriating public spaces for private use in that area.

Instead of building expensive shelters, shelters that were more similar to those provided in refugee camps and to victims of natural disasters would be used. By cutting costs, more could be sheltered.  Some of this simplification of sheltering the homeless is already occurring in some Western cities, such as cities which have permitted sanctioned homeless camps, or which are doing as Oakland recently began to do, and setting up a sanctioned camp using “Tuff Shed” structures.  

Video of ABC news article on Oakland’s Tuff Sheds for the homeless

This simplification of shelters, combined with the use of sanctioned camps, could help enormously in reducing the blight, crime, nuisance, garbage piles, drug use and health hazards associated with unsanctioned, ad hoc, homeless camps.

Currently, people who become homeless in a given area, are being directed to permanent housing, which often means subsidized housing, and the subsidy is larger if they are living in an area with high housing costs.  How many people who are recovering from homelessness, end up being able to afford to live independently in the same city where they became homeless, and how many instead require lifelong subsidies from that point on?  Studies need to be done to explore this.  The goal should be to put people where they can eventually afford to live, rather than subsidize them in regions where they can never hope to afford to live.

Of course, even with all these sorts of new approaches to the homeless problem, there will still be people living on city streets. However, I think that with a smarter, more centralized approach to housing and sheltering people, and a more simplified approach to shelter construction,  we could see great improvements over the current situation, and cities will not be left (as they too often are now) unable or unwilling to enforce no-camping laws.

Priority in Assigning Shelter space and housing

One of the most important things needed in helping the homeless, is studying the different kinds of homeless and finding out what are the needs of the people you’re trying to house. It’s aggravating and  annoying to read simplistic articles that simply lump all the homeless into one basket, as though the person with the graduate degree who lost his job and then his house, and became homeless, is very similar at all to the convicted felon with antisocial personality disorder and an addiction to cocaine, who became homeless after being thrown out of multiple apartments for vandalism and domestic violence, and who never was able to hold a steady job.

In working with people to find housing for them, people who have the most likelihood of success in finding work to be able to stand on their own two feet, should be given priority in choosing where they want to be housed.  Those who have the least likelihood of being able to find work to support themselves, or who are disabled and can’t work, should be given lowest priority to choose the particular city or region where they want to live.  “Beggars can’t be choosers”.  People of different need levels should be distributed evenly around the country so that no one area takes the brunt of the less functional and less employable population, but at the same time, people whose income level doesn’t match the cost of living in expensive cities, should not be housed there if they can be less expensively housed elsewhere.Bussing the homeless

This recent article studies the “bussing” of homeless from one city to another.  San Francisco has done a lot of bussing of the homeless out of the city.  One of the assumptions of the article is that homeless people are the responsibility of the city in which they happen to be found homeless.  This is a problematic and unworkable view, particularly for West Coast cities where the homeless populations are exploding.  Rather than viewing the homeless in any given city as the responsiblity of that city to shelter or house, it makes much more sense to organize housing, shelter space, and homeless services from a central federal hub.

This is how I envision this working:

(1) A person who finds themselves homeless goes to the nearest homeless service agency.  This agency does an intake interview and gets them signed up through a federal registry to find housing/shelter and/or services for them.

(2) The homeless individuals’ needs are assessed, so that they can be matched with the appropriate program.  At minimum, these needs are evaluated:

(a) Does the individual have skills enabling to readily find work, and if so, where can such work be found.  If not, does the individual have the capacity and/or willingness to learn skills which will enable them to find work.
(b) Does the individual have a mental or physical disability which makes it difficult or impossible for them to work.
(c) Does the individual have a problem with drugs/substances which impairs their ability to function or be employed.
(d) Does the individual have a serious mental illness, and if so, what are their needs relative to this problem.
(e) Does the homeless individual have family and friends in any part of the nation or world who could help them.
(f) Does the individual have a criminal record which make it difficult to obtain work.

(3) Those individuals who are highest functioning, have work skills,  and only lack income or work, but have no substance abuse issues or serious mental illness, or criminal record, would be given highest priority in staying in the area where they are presently located.  They would be assisted to find shelter space, housing or services and then to find work, so they could support themselves.

(4) All other individuals will be given priority to choose the location where they receive services based on their level of functionality and level of need.  Individuals would be sent to locations where there are services available for them, rather than putting them on wait lists for shelter or services where they happen to be at present.  The system would be oriented around matching individuals with available shelter and services wherever those are available in the nation, rather than keeping the individual in the city where they are at present or where they want to be, living in an uncomfortable liminality where it is not clear when they will ever get what they need.
In other words, homeless individuals would find their choices about where they receive services, reduced in proportion to their level of need or lack of ability to function or work.  The greater their need the fewer their choices, but, at the same time, the greater their need the higher their priority to receive federal housing subsidies, under some federal programs which prioritize the most vulnerable.

This plan of course is dependent upon there being sufficient services and shelter, somewhere in the nation, for all those who are homeless.

If it turns out that there is insufficient shelter in standard homeless shelters, we cannot continue with the status quo and leave people to live on sidewalks and in bushes.  This is inhumane, and it also causes many problems for cities and neighborhoods.  Rather, adequate shelters must be constructed so that ALL the homeless have a safe and secure place to find shelter.  This may mean that people are sheltered in what are the equivalent of a series of refugee camps around the nation — looking much like the refugee camps we see in other parts of the world, or camps set up to provide housing for those who have lost their homes in natural disasters.   Obviously having the camps close to cities where work and services are available is desirable.     No emergency camp is ideal, but camps with running water, toilets, showers and clean and dry shelter, is greatly superior to the squalid shantytowns full of garbage, and lacking any hygenic facilities, which the homeless have been living in across the nation for many years.

For the longer term, all levels of government must explore how to create more permanent housing for those in need.  Van dwellersAs well, there should be exploration about how to create more free city-run or state-run campgrounds and parking lots with free space available to those wanting to live in vehicles, all around the nation.  These places are very valuable for those in times of difficulty or transition, and also fill the need that exists for those who prefer to live in vehicles or indeed who spend their lives traveling around the nation in vehicles.  Having designated places where these people could go and experience community of like -minded people, would take the burden and the sense of insecurity and illegality off of those who live in vehicles, and would reduce the problem of vehicle-dwelling on residential streets or other random areas of the city,, which leads to resident complaints, garbage, and nuisance in many cities.



Articles about the “Housing First” approach to solving homelessness:

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/4-simple-ways-to-end-homelessness_us_58a45fe9e4b080bf74f04294
http://www.coalitionforthehomeless.org/ending-homelessness/proven-solutions/

https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/04/end-homelessness-us/479115/
http://theweek.com/articles/575133/solving-homelessness-easy-why-dont-just
http://www.heritage.org/welfare/report/americas-homeless-manageable-problem-and-solution
https://thinkprogress.org/it-would-actually-be-very-simple-to-end-homelessness-forever-d6f15852b2ec/

http://blogs.berkeley.edu/2016/06/14/solving-homelessness-obvious-but-not-easy/
https://www.quora.com/How-can-San-Francisco-solve-its-homelessness-problem-without-simply-kicking-all-of-them-out-of-the-city-New-York-tried-to-and-found-a-solution-that-works-for-the-city-but-at-the-expense-of-the-welfare-of-the-homeless

http://www.nytimes.com/1989/09/10/us/survey-of-homeless-mental-ills-and-addiction.html

http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/opinion/commentary/sd-utbg-homeless-camp-sandiego-20170209-story.html

https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/solutions-to-homelessness-in-san-francisco-within-reach/

The central,  unavoidable problem, and very serious flaw in the “Housing First” model, is that in regions of the nation where the numbers of homeless are growing rapidly, indeed exploding in some areas, there is not enough affordable housing and there are not enough funds available to provide permanent housing for all those in need.  This article sums up this problem.

She Tried To Help the Homeless — and ended up with over $20,000 in Property Damage

This is not a general story about homelessness, it’s a particular story about one particular formerly homeless person, and what happened to the property owner who tried to be kind to him and provide him with housing.  Because facts and truth are important here, real names, real dates, real photos  and real facts are used in this article.

This story should not be used to generalize to all the homeless, but at the same time, it should not be considered a rare outlier.  For there have been many other stories like this.  Hence this story is very important in that it is an example of  a serious problem which cannot be ignored, when attempting to help or house the chronically homeless.

The story demonstrates the risk and sometimes the foolishness and naivete, of those who try to be “compassionate” and “help the homeless” in what may turn out to be the wrong way.  For to help people blindly, without appreciating what they really need, and to give them things that they will only destroy, is not really helping — it is enabling, and this is a distinction that’s very important to make.  Particularly in an atmosphere like we have in the politically progressive Bay Area, there are facile calls to “be compassionate” to the homeless and the poor,, which apparently mean to spend money without the likelihood of a good outcome.  Foolish and blind approaches to “help the homeless” would,  at best, spend money without accomplishing anything and, at worst, would enable and even reward/incentivize nuisance and waste as well as destructive, criminal, or other antisocial or problematic behavior.

This story demonstrates some  shortcomings of the “Housing First” approach to housing the homeless, indicating that simply giving people housing without treating their underlying problems such as mental illness or substance abuse, can in some cases potentially lead to serious problems — such as those detailed here. And these problems effected not only this one property owner, but at least 7 others  — collectively resulting in many tens of thousands of dollars of damage and loss — as we will see as this story unfolds.

The story begins with a property owner named Suzanne Masuret,  who owns several apartment buildings, both in Oakland and Berkeley.  She has no trouble renting these units, particularly in recent years as demand for housing has increased in the Bay Area.  But she has a generous side, and from time to time will rent to someone on Section 8.  In 2013, she had someone apply for one of her units, who was sponsored by the City of Berkeley’s Shelter Plus Care program, which helps those “who are chronically homeless in Berkeley”.  This person was John Kaipaka.  She offered him the apartment, a studio apartment in the Glen View district of Oakland, and he accepted and moved into the apartment in  October 16 2013.  Someone I know personally, had observed this apartment before it was rented to John, and saw that it was all in good order, nothing broken or damaged.

John Kaipaka photo

John Kaipaka

 

 

 

Kaipaka Shelter Plus contract

Kaipaka Shelter Plus contract pg 2Soon after he moved in, John Kaipaka began to do things that caused concern to other tenants of that building.  He was heard yelling and screaming a lot, sometimes at late hours of the night.  This continued through winter of 2013 and spring of 2014.  Eventually around June-July of 2014 he called Suzanne saying that some things in his apartment were broken, most notably, that he had a leak in the kitchen.  When Suzanne and her maintenance people and plumber came to check, they found the apartment in tatters.  It was clear that John had done an enormous amount of damage to the apartment.

The following damages were noted by her attorney, maintenance crew and plumber in July and August of 2014:

(1) Holes had been knocked out in the sheetrock walls, and some of the sheetrock had been removed in the bathroom . (2) Ceiling tiles had been removed from the ceiling.

IMG_0655
Ceiling tiles removed from ceiling
Kaipaka ceiling tiles and insulation removed March 12 2015

Insulation and ceiling tiles removed

(3) Insulation had been removed from walls and ceiling.

(4) Ceiling tile supports were bent and damaged

Kaipaka ceiling tiles removed laundry hung

Damaged ceiling tile supports

 

Kaipaka ceiling tiles removed March 12 2015

 

(5) Food had been splattered on the ceiling, and blood and/or food had been splattered on the walls.  This presented a biohazard situation.

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Food splattered on ceiling

 

Kaipaka food or blood on wall

Food and/or blood splattered on the wall

 

IMG_0656
Ceiling tiles removed from ceiling

(6) Light fixtures had been removed from the ceiling, and/or replaced with different light fixtures.

IMG_0653
LIght fixtures removed or replaced

 

(7) Cabinet doors had been removed from the cabinets, and cabinets had been broken.

IMG_0652

Broken kitchen cabinet

 

Kaipaka cabinet damaged

Kitchen cabinet missing parts and surfaces damaged

 

 

Kaipaka kitchen base cabinet destroyed

Kitchen base cabinet destroyed

 

Kaipaka how apartment looked March 12 2015

All kitchen cabinets destroyed, doors removed —

 

 

(8) The original bathroom door had been removed by John and replaced with an inferior door with holes in it, which could no longer close properly.
(9) The linoleum flooring had been removed from the entire bathroom, leaving the bare concrete slab exposed.
(10) The original toilet had been removed by John and replaced by John with an inferior toilet which leaked from the tank, and installed improperly so it leaked from the base.
(11) John had removed the original sink and vanity cabinet in the bathroom, and replaced it with a broken sink, which leaked through a crack in the porcelain, causing water to puddle on the floor.

Kaipaka bathroom no flooring

How the bathroom looked when Suzanne repossessed her property on March 12 2015

 

(12) When replacing the toilet or as an additional act of intentional sabotage, John had put foreign objects down the sewer line, causing a large clog, which took a plumber quite a while to extract.
(13) John removed  original faucet parts from the shower and replaced them with parts which did not fit correctly, causing a leak and resulting in mold in the bathroom.

Kaipaka bathroom shower

How the bathroom looked on March 12 2015 when owner gained repossession —

 

(14) John had disconnected some of the plumbing, so that water was leaking onto the floor of the unit.  Hence there had been extensive leaking for some time, such that the entire subfloor in the kitchen area was moldy and had to be replaced.  (15) John had removed all the carpeting from the apartment, exposing the concrete slab.  His filthy bed sat next to water puddles on the concrete slab when the owner regained access on March 12 2015 after the Sheriff evicted John that day.

Kaipaka bed and carpet removed

Bed amid piles of trash on concrete slab, carpet removed

 

Kaipaka bed on concrete floor(16) John had apparently done some electrical work himself, the result of which, was that some 110Volt outlets had been changed to 220 Volt outlets, causing a dangerous situation and one which would destroy any appliances plugged into those outlets.  (17) Blinds had been torn off the windows (18) JOhn had removed a built-in screen from the front door and replaced it with one that did not fit correctly   (19) John had two dogs, (violating the rental agreement which stated only one dog was allowed) which peed on the carpet and floor in the apartment, damaging the floor.  (20) The kitchen sink drain had been disconnected, resulting in leaks and a clog.   (21) Wood trim had been torn off some of the windows and doors. (22) One of the windows was half missing, the lower sash having been removed. Kaipaka windows covered with fabric

Kaipaka window lower section gone.JPG
Lower section of window completely missing

(23) One of the window panes had been smashed, and the broken window covered with a board.

Kaipaka lower part window missing

Broken window pane covered with board

 

(24) One or more plumbing leaks caused by John’s tampering with the plumbing fixtures had flooded not only the kitchen but the entire apartment. Not only was the entire kitchen floor covered in a half inch of water, but and puddles of water were observed in the bathroom, and on the floor near his bed.

 

IMG_0651
Clog in kitchen sink caused by John trying to do plumbing himself

IMG_0654

(25) All appliances (microwave, stove, refrigerator) were in absolutely filthy condition  with broken parts, and all had to be disposed of and replaced.

Kaipaka stove

Filthy stove with missing oven racks and broken handle

 

 

In August of 2014, Suzanne hired an attorney and moved to evict John Kaipaka from the apartment, filing an eviction lawsuit, citing his extensive vandalism and destruction of her property as cause to evict. (In Oakland, as in Berkeley, just cause is required to evict tenants — destruction of the premises is a just cause).

Because John was a low-income tenant receiving a housing subsidy, he qualified for free legal aid, and obtained free legal aid from Laura Lane at the East Bay Community Law Center in Berkeley.  (At one point he was also apparently obtaining assistance from the Eviction Defense Center in Oakland. ) What did this mean? It meant that these free legal aid organizations (which provide free aid to tenants, but never to property owners)  did the same that they apparently do for all the tenants they represent — they “demanded”  of Suzanne a jury trial (which would cost her $40-50k) or offered a “settlement demand.”  The settlement was that John would be able to continue to live in her apartment, wherein he was engaged in serial destruction,  for another 6 months, rent-free.

Thus Suzanne — as is doubtless the case with many other property owners — was essentially put in the same position as many who are trying to evict low income tenants who obtain free legal aid.    Due to the legal aid provided to John by the attorneys Laura Lane and Philip Hernandez representing John at the East Bay Community Law Center — she was forced either to allow John to continue to live in her apartment for another 6 months rent-free (he personally paid no rent, but Shelter Plus did pay their portion of his housing subsidy during this time), or to pay $40-50k for a “jury trial” for the eviction suit.  One can easily see that neither of these choices are fair and that the property owner ends up essentially extorted by the justice system.
And unfortunately as too many property owners discover, to their horror, too late — this is what tenant protection and the existence of legal aid agencies like the East Bay Community Law Center and Eviction Defense Center means in Oakland and Berkeley —  it means property owners can face egregiously unjust and truly horrible situations where “justice”  apparently means the right of tenants to steal from the landlord and be allowed to stay for months without paying rent, or even possibly, be permitted to stay and continue extensively destroying and vandalizing the property.

A meeting was held in August 2014 at the apartment, attended by John Kaipaka, Suzanne’s plumber/maintenance crew, Suzanne’s attorney, a representative from Shelter Plus, and John’s attorney.   It was a very odd meeting, because as everyone could clearly see, there was massive damage to the apartment  — including water that was pouring out of a plumbing pipe while everyone watched —   and yet there was John Kaipaka standing there saying that “the apartment was like this when I got it. ” His representatives who supported him were, by supporting him,  essentially indicating that they agreed with this ludicrous statement — as if anyone would offer to rent out an apartment in such a state of destruction.

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Massive black mold issue created by leak left unrepaired

 

IMG_0070 (1)IMG_0071 (1)

Hence Suzanne had no choice but to allow John to remain for another 6 months in this apartment which he was tearing apart piece by piece and selling these pieces.  His daily “work” was that of a recycling/trash scavenger, and he was observed  in other places around the city, raiding trash and recycling cans to find things to sell.  A couple other tenants in the building on Excelsior Blvd in Oakland, when interviewed,  hypothesized that John’s bizarre, destructive and at times aggressive behavior might be explained by drug use.  It would be consistent with substance abuse, to see someone do as John did and tear apart their apartment, selling it piece by piece, to fuel a substance addiction.  After John was evicted, drug paraphernalia was found in the apartment.

Kaipaka drug paraphernalia

Items John left behind in the apartment

 

At one point during this time, actually immediately prior to the date when an inpsection of his apartment was scheduled to be attended by Suzanne and her attorney and John’s attorney, three marijuana plants were found on the roof of the studio John was renting, though he denied they were his. However, a search of criminal cases in Alameda Superior Court records shows that John Kaipaka had previously been charged with cultivating and selling marijuana.

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Three marijuana plants found on roof above John’s apartment — he denied they were his
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Marijuana plants found on roof above John’s apartment

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Kaipaka cultivating marijuana charge cropped

John had 2 other criminal charges — one for vandalism and one for unauthorized entry of a dwelling house, or trespassing.  Kaipaka criminal charges cropped

 

Although Suzanne served John with a 3 day notice on Aug 23 2014 and filed an unlawful detainer suit on August 28 2014, it took her nearly 7 months to get him out of her property.  Kaipaka 3 day notice

Kaipaka Unlawful Detainer complaintBecause of the “tenant protection” offered by  the legal organizations which provide free legal aid to tenants  (but never to property owners — when I inquired at the East Bay Community Law Center whether they offered help to low income landlords, the person I asked replied with a smirk,  “sorry, we don’t help landlords) , it was not until March 12 2015 when she was actually able to legally evict John Kaipaka from the studio apartment on Excelsior Blvd, which he had spent the last many months continually destroying.

John’s attorneys filed an answer to the unlawful detainer, which ridiculously accused the landlord of causing the damage that John had done, stating that property owner Suzanne had “breached the warranty of habitability.”   John’s East Bay Community Law Center attorney Philip Hernandez accused Suzanne of “retaliating” against John when he asked for repairs to his unit, repairs necessitated by his own massive vandalizing of the unit.

Note here that the East Bay Community Law Center is providing free assistance to those engaging in activities which can result in a great deal of additional cost to property owners who are being victimized, often, as in this case, by someone who has a great deal of experience in abusing the court system.  Tenants who are criminals and vandals can find plenty of help from the East Bay Community Law Center.  But property owners find none. It would be a very interesting study to research what was the total cost to property owners, in damages to property, lost rental income, court and attorney fees, caused by the free legal aid given by the East Bay Community Law Center to those who violate rental agreements or don’t pay rent, and yet demand to stay on the property owners’ property.  Keep in mind, they are funded by the city and by federal government block grants.

John Kaipaka had “agreed” to leave the apartment as of January 15th, 2015, and this was the date he was to deliver the keys to his attorney at the East Bay Community Law Center.  Not surprisingly, he failed to meet the terms of this agreement, and it was another 2 months until Suzanne was able to get him out of her property.  Kaipaka represented by East Bay Community Law Center

That is the date when the sheriff came and physically removed John from the premises,  Even though he’d been given notice of the date of his eviction, he did not leave and left most of his belongings in the apartment when the sheriffs removed him on March 12th.Kaipaka sheriff notice on door

Kaipaka eviction restoration notice up close

Kaipaka eviction restoration notice 2 up close

 

During the few days before he was physically removed from the premises, John had placed a large amount of broken furniture and unwanted items on the sidewalk in front of her property, which he never removed.  Suzanne had to pay to dispose of this garbage, as well as pay to dispose of all the rest of his belongings which he abandoned inside the unit.

Kaipaka items left on sidewalk March 12 2015

Items John left on sidewalk just prior to his eviction

 

 

Kaipaka items on sidewalk 2 March 12 2015

ITems John left on sidewalk just prior to his eviction

 

As Suzanne’s maintenance people first entered the apartment in order to remove belongings and trash, they discovered that they had to wear gas masks in order to do this work, as the stench was unbearable.  A mountain of trash and broken furniture was removed, and during this process, John came by and demanded to be permitted into the apartment to collect his belongings.  It was discovered that he had stored many of his belongings in the laundry room of the building, which he came to retreive after his eviction, in spite of the fact that he was prohibited from trespassing on the property after his eviction.

Kaipaka items stored in laundry room 1

Items John was storing in the building’s laundry room, which he trespassed to retreive.  Note roll of insulation he’d removed from the apartment ceiling.

 

It was also discovered, to the dismay and disturbance of other tenants in the building, that after his eviction, John had returned to the property and trespassed on the property and was sleeping in the laundry room of the building.  Maintenance workers had to change the lock of the laundry room to prevent him from continually sleeping there.

John demanded that maintenance workers let him back into his apartment to retrieve his belongings which he had failed to remove prior to being physically removed from the premises by the sheriff.  When the maintenance workers did not let him in, he came back later and, according to some tenants in the building, was seen stealing the lawn furniture that had been in the courtyard of the apartment.  Although he had been given plenty of notice of the date when sheriffs would arrive to remove him,  John had left his computer in the apartment, along with many other belongings.
Kaipaka desk and computer scrubbed

 

A couple of the maintenance workers also saw him loitering in the area for several days afterward, and when one of them threatened to call the police, he yelled obscenities at them and then was observed walking toward the apartment mailboxes, after which, he was observed walking away with a large pile of mail in his arms.  Just thereafter, some of the mail was found to be missing, so it seems he apparently stole mail from the apartment mailbox.  A police report was filed.

The apartment was a complete loss and had to be rebuilt from the wood studs.  All the cabinets, all the flooring, all the sheetrock had to be replaced.  The bathroom had to be completely rebuilt with new shower fixtures, new cabinet and toilet and floor.  The kitchen had to be completely rebuilt with new floor, cabinets, sink, faucet.  Light fixtures had to be replaced.  The total cost for all the repair work on the apartment, exceeded $10,000, which was not all paid by the Shelter Plus agency.  As well, Suzanne had legal fees for all the work done by her attorney in the Eviction suit, which totalled over $5000.  The property owner Suzanne would have come out ahead financially if she had simply left the apartment vacant for an entire year.

Let this be a warning story, to those who too blindly and naively hope to “help the homeless.”  One of the warnings is that property owners should do their due diligence when renting out their property.  A search of Alameda County Superior Court records shows numerous legal actions filed against John Kaipaka, which Suzanne could have discovered prior to renting to him.  There were already 13 court actions filed against John Kaipaka when she rented her apartment to him in 2014.  Her unlawful detainer suit was the 14th.
Kaipaka legal actions list prv
The previous court actions involved 2 lawsuits for harassment, and no less than 7 previous unlawful detainer lawsuits, indicating John Kaipaka had been evicted at least 7 times previously (sometimes with a roommate), and in each one of those cases had failed to leave on the date required, thus necessitating an unlawful detainer suit.  In all of the cases I looked at, John Kaipaka’s legal and court fees were waived by the court, while he  in one instance demanded a jury trial, while the property owners’ fees were not waived in any of these cases.
These unlawful detainer cases took months to resolve, as follows:

  1. Hextrum v. Kaipaka in 2002 took 3 months to remove John from premises after filing Unlawful Detainer suit
  2. Pritchard v. Frio and Kaipaka took 4 months to remove John after filing UD
  3. Vassiliades v. Kaipaka in 2006 took 6 months to remove John after filing UD
  4. Zahler v. Kaipaka in 2006 took 3 months to remove John after filing UD
  5. Ferrari v. Jones and Kaipaka in 2007 took 4 months to remove John after filing UD
  6. Valiquette v. Kaipaka in 2010 took 8 months to remove John after filing UD
  7. Tracy v. Kaipaka in 2011 took 6 months and jury trial to remove John after filing UD
  8. Masuret v. Kaipaka in 2014 took 7 months to remove John after filing UD

If we add up all the months involved in all these unlawful detainer actions, it becomes clear that John Kaipaka effectively stole 41 months, or approximately 3.5 years of rent/accomodations, from 8 different property owners.  If we estimate rent at $1000 a month, (which is low for the Bay Area) this would amount to a total of $41,000 in stolen rent/accomodations.  Each property owner was also required to spend at least $1000 each on court and legal fees, quite possibly much more.  He was assisted in this effective theft of accomodations in the latter instance by “advocacy” provided by the East Bay Community Law Center, and it’s likely that this or another legal aid agency’s “advocacy” also assisted him in stealing the total 3. 5 years of accomodations that he received but never paid for, throughout the 8 unlawful detainer suits.

Hextrum v Kaipaka prv

Pritchard v Frio0001

 

Vassilaides v KaipakaZahler v Kaipaka

Ferrari v Jones

 

Valiquette v Kaipaka

Tracy v Kaipaka

Masuret v KaipakaThis is presented to show the enormous costs to property owners that can be involved in trying to provide housing for troubled individuals, particularly when the agencies helping them are not run responsibly, and fail to assess their clients’ history, needs, and capacity for living responsibly in their own apartment.  It’s my opinion too that Shelter Plus is irresponsible to be sponsoring someone who has so many unlawful detainer suits on his record.  This is not a person who deserves to be given a housing subsidy.  He needs to live in a managed care facility, where he’s not able to continually damage the premises or fail to pay rent, with impunity.

It is illuminating and pertinent that as of 2014, the city of Berkeley no longer owns any public housing units.  Berkeley no longer owns public housing

 

An observer of this situation in Berkeley has theorized that the reason Berkeley no longer owns any public housing units, is that they were being damaged by their occupants and trashed, and turned out to be too expensive to keep.  So the hypocrisy involved here is that the city of Berkeley wants to transfer damages and losses from itself to private property owners.   The city of Berkeley doesn’t  want to pay for the damages that these people do — they want someone else to pay for it.  Someone like you and me.  The city wants to protect itself from having to pay for continual damages to housing caused by those who are not responsible enough to deserve to live there, while at the same time it pressures private property owners to take these individuals and bear the burden of the costs of these damages.

Progressive politicians concerned about housing the poor and the homeless will often bemoan the fact that not very many private property owners are willing to take tenants with Section 8 housing vouchers.  Some in government even want to start forcing private property owners to accept those with Section 8 vouchers!  What they fail to look at, is why property owners do not want Section 8 tenants.  There are many reasons why owners take a much greater risk in housing such individuals, than with standard tenants who can pay their own way.  This story serves as one example, there are many, many more.

As well, while government housing units are exempt from rent and eviction control, privately owned housing units are not.  Hence it is much more risky and dangerous to place troubled individuals in privately owned housing, because as we have seen in the 8 unlawful detainer cases shared here, private property owners end up extorted by legal aid groups and forced to allow deadbeats and vandals to stay in their premises rent-free for several months after they were legally required to vacate, as part of unlawful detainer “settlement demands” presented by these legal aid groups.

The proper place for troubled individuals such as the chronically homeless who have mental illnesses, substance abuse issues, and/or criminal records, therefore cannot be in private property subject to eviction controls, which can make it onerous and expensive to remove these individuals.  Property owners who agree to take on the risk of housing any of these troubled individuals, should be specifically exempted from such eviction controls, as well as exempted from the standard court process to remove those unlawfully detaining the premises, which as we see can be exploited by those who obtain assistancce from legal aid agencies which allows them to steal months of accomodations.  Those willing to take the risk of housing troubled individuals should be permitted to physically remove these individuals (self-help eviction) at the point of expiration of a standard 3 day notice, without filing an unlawful detainer suit, and without the tenant having any right to a court eviction process, much less a jury trial.  This would give such property owners far greater rights to protect their property than is generally the case, but since stories like the one I’m sharing here are likely to be all too common with troubled individuals, it stands to reason that the government should do a much better job protecting such property owners.

As well, and it should be mandatory that the government and/or sponsoring agency will fully reimburse them for all damages and legal fees that result from housing such individuals.  If this cannot be done to protect private property owners, then the government, not private property owners, should bear the entire burden of housing troubled individuals, for the government alone can create laws and systems and fund agencies to serve troubled individuals such as the chronically homeless, which would minimize damage to premises and expsense to the public.

It may well turn out that there are a great many individuals, who just cannot be given standard housing, because they will destroy it.   Much more work and exploration is needed to look for ways to house the most troubled, as well as the most destructive, anti-social  and irresponsible members of society.  And because these people in particular cause so much crime and grief and nuisance for the rest of us, committing resources and energy to this cause will be a challenge.

 

Berkeley’s Attempt to Address the Homeless Problem

Berkeley has been attempting to address the problem of homelessness within its city boundaries, for quite some time.  This Berkeleyside article sums up the history of Berkeley’s homeless issue and the city’s attempt to come up with solutions for it.  As well, this Berkeleyside article explores more of the city’s work with homelessness over the years.

This study done by the Homeless Task Force on HOmelessness in Berkeley helps put into context the problem. Homeless Task Force study on Homelessness in Berkeley 2009

Note from page 3 of the study, 41% of homeless had serious mental illness and 40% were chronic substance abusers.

In recent years the problem of homelessness has increased dramatically in Berkeley as in other Bay Area cities, and around the nation.  In 2016, Jesse Arreguin, who ran on a campaign saying that homelessness was his first priority,  was elected Berkeley’s mayor.  In 2016, a group of homeless people calling themselves the “Poor Tour” or “First They Came for the Homeless” began setting up homeless camps in very prominent places, such as in public parks or on street medians, to draw attention to the problem, as well as to simply insist on taking for themselves what they felt the city was not doing enough to provide — decent shelter.  Arguably, when a city has not been designed with the homeless in mind (as is the case with most cities), there is really no “appropriate” place for a homeless encampment. However, the Poor Tour would choose some of the most inappropriate of places — such as in the middle of a street between two lanes of traffic.

FTC on street median
Hence the Poor Tour’s camps were subject to serial eviction, 17 times in all. This website documents those evictions.  In later 2016, the Poor Tour settled in at a camp at the Here/There sculpture on the Berkeley/Oakland city border, and was permitted to remain there for nearly a year.  Then, in October 2017, a woman was found dead in a tent at this camp, as related in this article and in this article.  Very soon after this, BART which owned the land the camp was set up upon, moved to evict the campers from this area.  As is now unfortunately too often the case with homeless camps, and with the Poor Tour camp in particular, the denizens of these camps are getting free legal representation, which means that any entity or agency’s attempt to remove them becomes more expensive and frought with difficulty.  Their attorney filed to prevent the eviction, and the federal judge granted a stay.  They were permitted to remain for another week.  They sued the city and BART, as stated in this article.  Eventually BART was allowed to evict the homeless encampment.  One wonders how any other result could have been possible — would BART have been forced to allow the camp to remain there for the next, oh, dozen years or the next century?  The judge in this case, however, ordered the city of Berkeley to submit a plan about how it would house “substantially all of its homeless” by November 28th 2017.

When this news was presented in an article on Berkeleyside, many of the astute commenters noted the problem here — why was Berkeley being asked by the judge to house substantially all of its homeless, while other cities in the county had far fewer or even no homeless people?  Why should this burden be placed on Berkeley? The judge in essence seemed to be making the same kind of unreasonable demand that the Poor Tour had made —   the judge seemed to demand shelter, for all of them, while the Poor Tour demanded free permanent housing for all — and apparently for everyone who happened to show up in the city demanding this.  The problem being highlighted by both the judge’s and the Poor Tour’s demands, in essence can be seen as a kind of bullying.  Apparently the nicest kid on the block gets the most bullying — Berkeley has been so very tolerant and supportive to its homeless population, that the thanks it gets comes in the form of an ever higher ratched up set of demands.

The fact that the homeless are in fact homeless, without residence, and the fact that some cities are overburdened with homeless while other cities have none…as well as the fact that the homeless can travel around– all will eventually point ever more strongly for a need to resolve these issues at a federal or at least state level.  No one city can be expected to provide for everyone who has a whim to go and plop down there and hold out their hand asking for help.  It’s been said several times, for instance, that it would be ridiculous to think that people have a right to just show up in Beverly Hills and demand free permanent housing, or threaten to extort the city to get that by making a nuisance of themselves if they aren’t given everything they want.  People deserve help and I believe everyone deserves adequate shelter, — in fact I think the point many make that “housing is a human right” is very well made.  However, even if housing is a human right, doesn’t mean indigent people have a right to dictate exactly what type of housing they will be given and where it will be.  The old saying  “beggars can’t be choosers” is quite relevant here, and this is the common sense being rejected by  many homeless and their advocates, who often are being quite choosy indeed — in particular by demanding housing in one of the areas with the most expensive housing in the nation.

I think we are in the very beginning stages of having to come to understand the need for federal/state organization of homeless services, nationally.  It will take more time as cities continue to observe the problem grow worse.  As well, I think we will have to accept that the housing that many will get, is going to be very basic and rudimentary. The equivalent of refugee camps is on the horizon, I think. One Berkeleyside commenter pointed to the United Nations Refugee Agency as an agency which should take up this task.

On November 28th the City of Berkeley submitted its response to the judge’s order, as described in this article.  Their 17 page response to the judge summarized the problem and the city’s response.  An article about Berkeley’s intentions for doing winter shelter for the homeless is here.

Their data about the homeless is peer reported — they relied upon statements made by the homeless themselves — which leaves this data open to question.  For instance the city states, ” Seventy six percent of people reported that they were last housed somewhere in Alameda County at the time they lost their housing; an additional 20% were housed somewhere else in California, while only 4% were last housed out of state.”

BERKELEY HOMELESS ENCAMPMENT

The city did pertinently note that its tolerance of the homeless and its degree of support of the homeless may factor into the reason why there are more homeless in Berkeley than in, for instance, Hayward or Fremont, or other Alameda county cities which have NO homeless people.

The city wrote: ” The City of Berkeley provides significant support to homeless people, and the community is considered quite tolerant of the challenges associated with homelessness. Both of these are factors in Berkeley’s disproportionately large homeless population. Consider that the cities of Hayward and Fremont, both larger than Berkeley, have fewer than half as many homeless people. There are several Alameda County cities with no homeless people. “

Berkeley pointed out that it is the first city in Alameda County that developed a coordinated system to help the homeless, one which must, according to federal mandates made in conjunction with federal monies given for the cause, prioritize those with highest needs: “The Hub carries out a federal mandate to prioritize homeless resources for those with the highest need; in Berkeley, this means long term homeless people with a disability. The development of the Hub was informed by a series of community meetings
including discussions with homeless people in Berkeley. It is operated by a local nonprofit organization, the Berkeley Food and Housing Project, with funding and guidance from the City of Berkeley. The Hub serves as Berkeley’s single point of entry for housing, shelter and supportive services, and strategically first serves those least able to help themselves. Since it opened nearly two years ago, 101 chronically homeless people – people living on the streets for more than a year and with a disability (often more than one) — have been permanently housed.

First they came at night

Additionally, the city summarized its plans to develop an affordable housing project at Berkeley Way which would combine low-cost housing with 89 studio apartments and a shelter with 32 shelter beds.  They described their plans to provide winter season shelter, and to develop two city properties (a warehouse on University Ave and the basement at City Hall) into shelters that could house 75 people each.

However the city also expressed its reluctance to devote energy, money or resources toward sanctioned encampments:   “City staff have been reluctant to pursue sanctioned
encampments precisely because they distract limited resources, staff time, and nonprofit capacity from the ultimate goal: actually ending people’s homelessness by getting them housed.”


As well, the city pointed out that creation of sanctioned camps would create legal liabilities for them:  .” Sanctioned tent encampments do not qualify for tort immunity as they do not meet “minimum public health and safety standards”

In particular, the tents would not qualify as meeting basic health and safety standards,  because “HCD advises that an “emergency sleeping cabin” as defined in Govt. Code § 8698.3(h) would meet minimum health and safety standards. Pursuant to Govt. Code § 8698.3(h), an emergency sleeping cabin must have all of the following features: (1) a “relocatable hard-sided structure….with a raised floor area of no less than 120 square feet…for two occupants and a minimum of 70 square feet of interior space for one occupant”; (2) “a minimum of 20 pounds per square foot live load roof structure”; (3) electrical power; (4) at least one interior light fixture; and (5) electrical heating that is GFCI-protected. (Govt. Code § 8698.1). Since outdoor tents have none of these features, a tent encampment would not meet the standards set forth in Govt. Code § 8698, and the City would therefore not be entitled to the immunity from tort liability provided by Govt. Code § 8698.1(a).”

There is potential for change in the latter, because beginning Jan 1 2018, a new government code comes into play which is designed to help cities develop shelter for the homeless in a timely way.  In this case the city would be permitted to develop its own health and safety standards,    and  “If HCD finds that the City’s proposed standards meet “minimum health and safety standards,” then landlord/tenant laws regarding habitability will not apply to any homeless shelters that are constructed pursuant to such standards.”

The city indicated that public parks were not permitted to be used to set up homeless encampments, because “The City may not use parks or open space in Berkeley for non-recreational purposes, including homeless encampments, without voter approval. In 1986, Berkeley voters approved Measure L, later codified as Chapter 6.42 of the Berkeley Municipal Code, which requires that all public parks, playgrounds, school yards and vacant public land being used as open space be “dedicated to permanent recreational use” by the City of Berkeley and “funded for recreational use.” BMC Chapter 6.42.010 and 6.42.020. ”  Hence, ” Accordingly, the City is precluded from establishing some or all of a park or open space area as a sanctioned homeless encampment without the approval of the voters. “

The city indicated too that the Berkeley Marina is off limits for use as a homeless encampment:  “City lands held in “Trust” at the Berkeley Marina may not be used for a homeless encampment pursuant to the Public Trust Doctrine The Berkeley Marina and waterfront are subject to the common law Public Trust Doctrine and the statutory limitations found in the statute granting these lands to the City of Berkeley in 1913, as amended. See Stats. 193, ch. 347, § 1 and Stats. 1962, ch. 55, § 1. The City of Berkeley’s statutory grant of its tidelands and submerged lands currently requires that such lands be “held in trust” for specified uses in which there is a general, statewide benefit, including wharves, docks, piers, commercial and industrial purposes, aviation facilities, transportation and utility facilities, public buildings, parks, playgrounds, marinas, restaurants and motels. Although courts have recognized that “trust” uses may evolve over time, they have found it to be essential that they be public, water-dependent uses that serve a statewide purpose. Purely municipal facilities such as libraries and hospitals have been held to not be of general statewide interest. Mallon v. City of Long Beach, 44 Cal.2d 199 (1955). By letter of April 18, 2017, the California State Lands Commission advised the City of its opinion that use of any portion of the Berkeley Marina and waterfront for a homeless encampment would be inconsistent with the City of Berkeley’s statutory grant and the Public Trust Doctrine.”

Actually even beyond the Public Trust Doctrine dictating use of Berkeley Marina lands, Berkeley itself has multiple municipal codes which prohibit several homeless–related activities which are now taking place at the Berkeley Marina, such as:

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:

http://www.codepublishing.com/CA/Berkeley/?Berkeley06/Berkeley0620/Berkeley0620.html&?f

See also this article about this

: https://homelessquandary.wordpress.com/2018/02/12/impact-of-homeless-on-police-bart-system-bpd-75-of-our-time-spent-on-homeless/

In sum, what I glean from reading these statements is that while the city is committed to making the homeless problem its number one priority, as many of us have anticipated, it faces very real limits in what is possible to do based on financial limitations as well as legal ones.  In fact, from what the city says here, many present time homeless camps may be illegally situated on city public land, and the public could sue the city to remove them.  The law is clear that this city owned public land cannot be used for homeless encampments.  By contrast, spaces under freeway ramps, owned by Caltrans or other agencies, or other land that does not belong to the city, may not fall under these rules.

In particular I find it ironic that some of the strongest prohibitions on homeless camping involve the area at the Berkeley Marina, which, as is shown in the article on the results of the Homeless Mapping project done on this site, is the area in Berkeley with the highest number of people living in vehicles.  Again, it seems to me that the public could  sue the city of Berkeley to follow the Public Trust Doctrine and return these lands to the public.

However, regardless whether the current homeless camps at or near public lands are technically illegal or not — the spirit of the laws here quoted reflect the deeper and broader issue of the city government’s general responsibility to protect public lands for the public to use.  And any homeless camp or vehicular housing on public lands or in public streets is a breach of the implied promise to the public, as these camps essentially involve a modern day type of homesteading — individuals are simply taking something that belongs to the public and converting it to private use.

In the response to the judge, the City indicated what it believed was within its power to do to tend to the homeless in the way that it deems most suitable — which is the “perfect” solution of housing them.  However, given that it is not possible to provide permanent housing for an ever increasing number of homeless people in Berkeley, and the city streets and parks are full of the result of this impossible quest, the city needs to face the practical problem of what to do about all those whom it cannot help, and who then become a problem increasingly present nearly on our doorstep.

Update as of January 22 2018:

Berkeley is proposing a new policy on encampments and objects on sidewalks, see here:

https://www.cityofberkeley.info/uploadedFiles/Mayor/Level_2_-_Department_Master_and_Collections/Encampment%20and%20Sidewalk%20Policy%201-14-18.pdf

OR:

Berkeley Encampment and Sidewalk Policy 1-14-18

Update February 10 2018:

As of February 8 2018, the city of Berkeley dismantled the homeless encampment at the lawn at Old City Hall, which had quadrupled in size over the last 3 months from 10 tents in November 2017 to 39 tents (as counted by police who dismantled the camp) on Feb 8 2018. At this rate of growth, the camp would have been 160 tents by May 2018 and 500 tents by October 2018. This eviction notice was posted on Feb 7th, which indicates the Municipal Code sections which the camp was violating. THere is a law against setting up structures on City property.

City Hall FTC camp notice of eviction

City Hall FTC pg 2 camp notice of eviction

Not long after this removal of the camp, some of the campers moved to adjacent City Hall on Milvia Street and set up tents there. As shown in videos shared on the Facebook Page for the First They Came for the Homeless group, these were visited by the police and/or by city employees and told they could not camp there, and were provided with a list of places to go for shelter and/or services.

Berkeley’s Parks and Waterfront Commission has asked that City Council please enforce the no-camping law at the Berkeley Marina.

Parks and Waterfront Commission request no camping enforcement Feb 2018

The Parks Commission recommendation:


9. Marina and Parks Use. Action: Send a communication to Council requesting enforcement of the
Marina Ordinance BMC Section 6.20.260 – Overnight camping in marina land areas prohibited; and
BMC Section 6.32.060 – Park Hours – no public use of City parks between 10pm and 6am. *

This is the letter the Parks and Waterfront Commission has sent to Berkeley City Council,
Screenshot (3642)

This is the signage the Parks and Waterfront Commission recommends for use at the Berkeley Marina:
Screenshot (3641)



An interesting side point to this issue of housing the homeless was presented by one of the Berkeleyside commenters.  A reader submitted the following information about some of the salaries enjoyed by city of Berkeley employees.  City employees enjoy these fat pay packages while Berkeley residents pay very high property taxes and the city frets about lack of funds for various projects, including those for the homeless:

Here are some City of Berkeley employee salaries and benefits. The list goes on forever. It seems that Berkeley’s public servants are more interested in serving themselves than serving those in need. Taxpayers let them get away with it even when it puts overwhelming pressure on the city’s budget. Last time I checked, you didn’t pursue a career in the public sector to make as much as a Google engineer (equal footing with tech salaries being a common justification, not that I condone these salaries either). With small cuts to these inflated compensations, the City would have enough money to house homeless people every winter. Clearly that is not their priority:

Name Job title Regular pay Overtime pay Other pay Total pay Total benefits Total pay & benefits
Stanley J Zukowski FIRE APPARATUS OPERATOR
Berkeley, 2016 $112,182.00 $129,848.00 $71,355.00 $313,385.00 $74,964.00 $388,349.00
Bedwendolyn D Williams-Ridley CITY MANAGER
Berkeley, 2016 $257,692.00 $0.00 $5,914.00 $263,606.00 $109,139.00 $372,745.00
David A Frankel POLICE CAPTAIN
Berkeley, 2016 $184,193.00 $0.00 $39,477.00 $223,670.00 $135,742.00 $359,412.00
Peter J Hong POLICE SERGEANT
Berkeley, 2016 $133,856.00 $59,776.00 $53,944.00 $247,576.00 $109,056.00 $356,632.00
Kevin A Reece POLICE LIEUTENANT
Berkeley, 2016 $133,855.00 $76,751.00 $36,677.00 $247,283.00 $103,491.00 $350,774.00
Jeremy R Lathrop POLICE OFFICER
Berkeley, 2016 $116,071.00 $141,542.00 $18,622.00 $276,235.00 $72,984.00 $349,219.00
Lionell F Dozier Ii POLICE OFFICER
Berkeley, 2016 $115,229.00 $116,138.00 $29,856.00 $261,223.00 $87,419.00 $348,642.00
Andrew R Greenwood POLICE CAPTAIN
Berkeley, 2016 $188,465.00 $0.00 $24,470.00 $212,935.00 $130,299.00 $343,234.00
Steve R Rego POLICE OFFICER
Berkeley, 2016 $116,071.00 $91,086.00 $36,364.00 $243,521.00 $90,700.00 $334,221.00
Edward A Spiller POLICE CAPTAIN
Berkeley, 2016 $165,220.00 $3,770.00 $31,084.00 $200,074.00 $122,064.00 $322,138.00
Craig W Lindenau POLICE SERGEANT
Berkeley, 2016 $133,857.00 $78,178.00 $13,145.00 $225,180.00 $96,843.00 $322,023.00
David K Reece POLICE CAPTAIN
Berkeley, 2016 $161,583.00 $24,230.00 $17,153.00 $202,966.00 $118,477.00 $321,443.00
Daniel R Montgomery POLICE LIEUTENANT
Berkeley, 2016 $160,674.00 $23,392.00 $13,093.00 $197,159.00 $117,440.00 $314,599.00
Richard M Guzman FIRE CAPTAIN I
Berkeley, 2016 $134,466.00 $76,299.00 $23,800.00 $234,565.00 $79,202.00 $313,767.00
Michael K Meehan POLICE CHIEF
Berkeley, 2016 $184,966.00 $0.00 $20,619.00 $205,585.00 $107,105.00 $312,690.00
Randolph Files POLICE LIEUTENANT
Berkeley, 2016 $160,674.00 $19,310.00 $19,070.00 $199,054.00 $110,470.00 $309,524.00
Kevin M Schofield POLICE LIEUTENANT
Berkeley, 2016 $160,675.00 $21,586.00 $14,592.00 $196,853.00 $112,423.00 $309,276.00
Todd C Sabins POLICE SERGEANT
Berkeley, 2016 $133,856.00 $48,708.00 $25,017.00 $207,581.00 $101,607.00 $309,188.00
David A Lindenau POLICE SERGEANT
Berkeley, 2016 $133,856.00 $52,691.00 $20,855.00 $207,402.00 $100,897.00 $308,299.00
Andrew B Rateaver POLICE LIEUTENANT
Berkeley, 2016 $160,675.00 $21,677.00 $15,562.00 $197,914.00 $110,299.00 $308,213.00
Jennifer A Louis POLICE CAPTAIN
Berkeley, 2016 $144,158.00 $4,513.00 $28,897.00 $177,568.00 $121,844.00 $299,412.00
Gilbert K Dong Jr FIRE CHIEF
Berkeley, 2016 $220,990.00 $0.00 ($9,086.00) $211,904.00 $86,593.00 $298,497.00
Rico Rolleri POLICE LIEUTENANT
Berkeley, 2016 $160,674.00 $9,204.00 $10,768.00 $180,646.00 $115,566.00 $296,212.00
Jeffrey F Johns PSYCHIATRIST SUPERVISOR
Berkeley, 2016 $215,395.00 $0.00 $485.00 $215,880.00 $75,488.00 $291,368.00
Michael R Durbin POLICE LIEUTENANT
Berkeley, 2016 $145,262.00 $27,799.00 $13,201.00 $186,262.00 $105,033.00 $291,295.00
Charles H Wong FIRE CAPTAIN I
Berkeley, 2016 $134,467.00 $87,236.00 $8,742.00 $230,445.00 $59,975.00 $290,420.00
Alyson L Hart POLICE LIEUTENANT
Berkeley, 2016 $160,674.00 $10,541.00 $21,491.00 $192,706.00 $95,118.00 $287,824.00
Scott W Hall FIRE CAPTAIN II
Berkeley, 2016 $124,389.00 $68,597.00 $18,862.00 $211,848.00 $73,255.00 $285,103.00
David M White POLICE SERGEANT
Berkeley, 2016 $133,855.00 $36,491.00 $11,714.00 $182,060.00 $99,177.00 $281,237.00
Anthony Hall Iii FIREFIGHTER
Berkeley, 2016 $104,376.00 $98,470.00 $9,357.00 $212,203.00 $68,438.00 $280,641.00
Mary C Kusmiss POLICE SERGEANT
Berkeley, 2016 $105,028.00 $30,228.00 $43,683.00 $178,939.00 $101,308.00 $280,247.00
Sarah M Reynoso DIRECTOR OF HUMAN RESOURCES
Berkeley, 2016 $184,239.00 $0.00 $6,107.00 $190,346.00 $89,453.00 $279,799.00
Spencer Fomby Ii POLICE SERGEANT
Berkeley, 2016 $133,856.00 $60,111.00 $2,461.00 $196,428.00 $83,171.00 $279,599.00
Janet M Berreman HEALTH OFFICER (CERT)
Berkeley, 2016 $190,512.00 $0.00 ($1,461.00) $189,051.00 $89,197.00 $278,248.00
David W Marble POLICE SERGEANT
Berkeley, 2016 $133,855.00 $32,112.00 $14,071.00 $180,038.00 $95,840.00 $275,878.00
James J Kelekian EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR RENT BOARD
Berkeley, 2016 $196,811.00 $0.00 $4,529.00 $201,340.00 $74,209.00 $275,549.00
Zachary D Cowan CITY ATTORNEY
Berkeley, 2016 $203,465.00 $0.00 ($2,690.00) $200,775.00 $74,332.00 $275,107.00
John R Tarascio FIRE CAPTAIN II
Berkeley, 2016 $117,486.00 $64,005.00 $20,243.00 $201,734.00 $72,708.00 $274,442.00
Phillip L Harrington DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC WORKS
Berkeley, 2016 $187,593.00 $0.00 $1,175.00 $188,768.00 $83,707.00 $272,475.00