The Homeless Commission in the City of Berkeley had recommended that the city essentially “give land” to the Homeless Group known as “First They Came for the Homeless.” They stated:
Adopt a Resolution that the City of Berkeley provide the First They Came for the
Homeless encampment with a location for a tent city which will not be subject to
removal absent a major legal violation by the entire encampment community, in addition to working on a longer-term, broader policy that impacts other encampments.
See their letter here:
First They Came Homeless Camp Agenda item 38a Feb 13 2018
This approach would be quite foolish. First, it would be bad policy to “give land” to one specific group of homeless persons/political activists, and thus to show bias towards one particular group. This could be viewed as discriminatory and result in legal problems for the city. Second, it would be foolish to “give land” to a group which more than any other group of homeless or homeless activists, has shown a propensity to sue the city. Third, it would be bad policy to in essence “give land” to any group of homeless at all. If the city has trouble “evicting” campers from illegal encampments which have become problematic, imagine the difficulty in evicting the same campers from sites which the city has “given” them.
The city of Albany faced this dilemma with the campers at ALbany Bulb, a place it had for many years directed homeless people to go towards. By leaving campers alone there and letting them camp, by not enforcing no-camping rules at this public park, the problem of “homeless” persons camping there grew and grew, and became a serious problem, to the point where Albany had to shut the camp down. IT was quite expensive to do that and involved a lawsuit and the city having to provide temporary shelter trailers, which were actually barely used, as well as having to make payments to all the campers. This is a good example of what cities should NOT do, and clarifies why it’s dangerous to “give” land to any group of people to camp on, for who knows how long…maybe the rest of their lives?
Fourth, it would seem that the Homeless Commission had no expectations of those given a place to camp, and sought no details about how the camp would be used, rules on how long people would be able to stay. Hence they were fooishly recommending the implementation of a tent city which could quite possibly lead to people moving in and deciding to permanently squat or homestead in this spot indefinitely. Without rules clarifying how long campers could stay, why would they be motivated to not stay indefinitely? We have seen and heard stories of “homeless” in Berkeley who were apparently “homeless” for 6 years, 9 years…what’s to stop people from making “homelessness” in tents a permanent way of life, if the city were to enable this?
Fifth, the establishment of an sanctioned camp, would not necessarily result in an improvement in problems continually found elsewhere all around the city, where people are camping in public places in a variety of areas. Absent any way to compel campers to move from unsanctioned camps to a sanctioned camp, the possibility is very real that a sanctioned camp would not not alleviate or reduce problems of illegal camping in a variety of areas around the city, while creating the new problem of people possibly becoming more entrenched in one particular site. THis issue was raised by Councilmember Droste below.
Sixth, actually when we look at what has been happening in the city, when the city has permissively allowed camps to remain in place a while, we see that tolerance for an encampment, has not resulted in the gradual movement of people out of that encampment and into housing. Nor has tolerance for an encampment meant that other encampments don’t sprout up elsewhere, or that the tolerated camp if it doesn’t grow smaller, at least stays the same size. The city has tolerated the 2nd street encampment and the Seabreeze Encampment, but the fact that those have been allowed to exist for some time, did not apparently remove the need for the First they Came encampment at Here/There Sculpture. WHen that camp was disbanded, several people remained there, but just moved closer to the sidewalk. Others went to City Hall. Both those camps were tolerated, and both grew significantly in size from their original number.
HEnce, the lesson that the city might draw, is that far from sanctioned encampments leading to more people going into housing, actually sanctioned encampments could just lead to larger encampments and the demand among “the homeless” (also sometimes called “landless”) for more encampments.
Seventh, without doing any assessment about just who is staying at any given encampment (in other words having a screening process) you dont’ know if the people there are from Berkeley, or the East Bay, or elsewhere in California, or from out of state. You don’t know if they are “homeless” , or are they perennial squatters and homesteaders who prefer to live outdoors and dont’ intend to ever live in standard housing. Without having a proper process, and leaving the whole thing loosey-goosey, you have a big mess that could just grow bigger.
So there are so many reasons why sanctioned encampments are not good policy, or why, if there is a decision to create one or more, this would need to be very carefully and wisely done.
Hence the City Manager was wise in suggesting that instead, the city focus on developing broader policy on this issue:
FTC Camp Agenda Item 38b Develop Broad Policy
At the Berkeley City Council meeting on Feb 13th 2018, this agenda item was heard. THere were many people from the community speaking up in favor of Berkeley providing a sanctioned camp for the FIrst They Came for the Homeless group, but these people, many of them obviously intelligent (at least a couple attorneys among them) unfortunately seemed to make the extremely simplistic computation: “there are a lot of homeless in Berkeley…therefore…we need sanctioned tent cities.” As Sophie Hahn pointed out best, such “broad brush strokes” dont’ work very well, you need to fill in all the details when you are looking at suggesting major changes to existing law and policy. And Congratulations to Hahn and other Council members (except for Davila, who’s been notoriously dimwitted on so many issues, this one included) in that they clearly see the need to develop detailed policy on this issue.
VIDEO Of the CIty Council meeting:
The 38a issue comes up at 4:27 on the video.
you can get to the start of this issue by clicking on item 38a on the lower left below the video.
It’s difficult to watch the city council meetings because members of the public can be so very rude to the council. They often interrupt, they hiss, they severely scold and disparage the council.
RECAP OF THE VIDEO:
A woman, Trisitia Bauman, an attorney, speaks in favor of giving this space to FTC, citing Seattle as a place where this option worked, and where they are actually expanding and setting up more sanctioned camps. She says that they have studied 187 cities acorss the nation.
Then we have a City Council meeting frequent flyer speaking up against “Fascists.”
Then a woman from the Berkeley Grey Panthers supports the recommendation for a camp to be allowed. She also speaks against “collective punishment” in which she says the whole camp can be removed if there is one person in violation. She asks for a long term broad policy on camps in the city.
Next is a man reading statements from some homeless people. He quotes someone who had a positive experience after being able to camp at Here/There.
Next a person quotes Mike Zint, saying that hours of operation of shelters complicates the life of the homeless.
Next a woman quotes Benjamin Royer of the FTC camp. She severely scolds the Council for throwing out people from City Hall camp.
A young man speaks up saying that he has read the legal issues and says there are steps that can be taken to sanction these camps.
Next a woman speaks up, from Grey Panthers who says she is “bursting with creative ideas”, and hopes that the city will support giving land to the FTC.
A man from Homeless Commission speaks who says we need to look at Seattle, not SF, for a good model. “SEattle has 6 sanctioned camps” (Yes but they probably have a whole lot more available land than Berkeley….)
A woman speaks giving the example of a woman who did much better when she could come out of hiding and live in a camp.
Another woman speaks who says people need to be able to stay in one spot and not be chased around. “We need to sanction other camps too and not chase people around.”
A man says that the city needs to “move beyond” its fear of lawsuits. HE says that setting up encampments will show a “clear path” forward and also address citizens fear of the homeless.
A man associated with Land Action group, describes being homeless for 6 years in Berkeley and “being criminalized” and says there is a contradiction between Berkeley as the “sanctuary city” and Berkeley “terrorizing citizens” by removing camps. He says that city is violating 8th Amendment if it evicts people from a site and does not provide another site. (Not true…not at all…the 8th Amendment does NOT require that people be able to set up permanent encampments, only that they be permitted to sleep in public places at night if they have no other place to sleep)
Ann Fagan Ginger of the Meikeljohn Civil LIberties INstitute. She said that human rights law requires that people have a right to housing. She quotes the “Berkeley Human Rights Ordinance.”
Ann Fagan Ginger is a longtime advocate of homeless, and has even argued before the US Supreme Court, but her views are overtly socialist and she would put the “human rights” of “homeless” above that of property owners. So in essence she takes a position that would support stealing or appropriating property from some people (or from the public as a whole, eg as in public parks) in order to provide for “human rights” of other people. She also may be caught in a bit of a time warp, perhaps stuck in a psychedelic bubble of the 1960’s era. At that time civil rights activism was in full swing, but this was before attitudes of entitlement and and lifestyles of heavy dependency on government handouts had grown into the serious problem we face today. Also, her advocacy for “landless people” lacks any nuance — such as any concern to define who these “landless” people are, what their needs are, how long they plan to be landless, whether they have any plans at all other than to remain perennially dependent on free handouts, and whether simply by declaring oneself “landless” one then immediately gains a right to seize other’s land.
Her Institute had previously written to the City’s Peace and Justice Commission on behalf of “Landless People”, demanding that the city stop evicting homeless campers assciated with the FTCFTH group.
A woman speaks who helps the homeless, says that without encampments, it is hard to find the homeless. “I find it odd that we legalize marijuana but we are not legalizing encampments.”
A homeless man speaks up who talks about how he was physically assaulted by a “white woman” and says the city is founded on hatred and discrimination. He says California is WORSE than NYC and the Deep South. Truly bizarre and obnoxious person, so ironic the hateful tone in his voice and the hate filled language he uses while scolding others about hate.
Nutty Frequent Flyers, Speaking out Hatefully against Hate
A South BErkeley resident speaks…she asks the city to take the Here/There fence down.
Councilmember Hahn speaks, saying she agrees that the situation on our streets is heartbreaking and dire and we need to address it. So she presented a comprehensive plan to address the problem. SHe says that while we have ambitions to do things like SEattle, Oakland., we are a much smaller city and have much less money. That means we can’t do things all at once. THe Pathways project will be implemented over time. One Navigation Center will be implemented to start, and a social service agency will be part of that which provides comprehensive services, so that our homeless will be put on a path towards housing, because “I want to get away from maintenance and really be on a path towards housing.” I’m frustrated that we have not worked quickly but my staff is working to the bone. My first vision of the navigation setting was tentlike structures. That was found to not be the best strategy. I have a vision of satellite settings, you can call them tent cities. WE dont’ have the mothership, so we dont’ have anything to plug things into. We need to find a common vocabulary, tent city, intentional community — I think we may actually have less difference of opinion than we think we do. I would like to move this conversation beyond “I’m for sanctioned camps/I’m against them” and to a common understanding of what we are talking about. Are we talking about no connection to services. Are we talking about infinite duration. I dont’ know what is in other’s minds when they talk about this. I would like to move this forward towards a more detailed vision. LEts talk about details and get a community consensus on how we could move this forward.
MAYOR — we are at 11:07 can we go to 11:30pm.
Kate Harrison speaks about how she had a town hall a week ago. She said the consensus was taht we need more humane solutions that don’t take as long to get implemented. We have an affordable housing crisis, a crisis of places not being available — 934 rent controlled units are vacant and off the market. I’m not willing to wait long. She says that the chart has details and we need to decide — where would the camp be and how big. “We’re going to have an encampment for this particular group” — I am not comfortable with that. Not just for one group. We need a larger policy. I love FTC, I think they are great, I do not believe in just promoting one group. We need policy that we can get off the ground. There is a government section that allows cities to develop their own housing standards. When we declare a housing emergency we can do that, and are mandated to submit a plan to the government. I sent this back to the Homeless Commission to think more broadly than just about a single group.
Davila speaks (her usual dorkiness) saying that it was ridiculous to move the City Hall camp as they have nowhere to go. Says that ” I dont’ know if any homeless people had any input on this little chart here” (referring to Hahn’s attempt to get specific details involved about what is being proposed for sanctioned camp/s) …”Now they are all in one little space right up against the RR tracks…I don’t know any of us who would want to live there. ” It’s difficult to listen to her nonsense — I feel so sorry for the other City Councilmembers having to put up with this perennial ineptitude. (But they do so, so gloriously gracefully and patiently!)
Droste says that she does NOT support sanctioned camps, “hiss if you like”, because they do not lead to housing. “I know the pathways is trying to emphasize exits on housing” (eg, moving people to permanent houseing) My feeling is sanctioned camps set up safety concerns, and I will not be supporting sanctioned camps.
Hurray for Lori Droste, sounding like a lone voice of sanity in a city where there can be so much delusional thinking!!
Droste goes on to say…What would be the incentive to people to move to a camp.? Or to move out of one? “Rainbow Village was a catastrophe that many people have not forgotten.” Hurray to someone for being aware of what can go wrong in over idealistic rainbow ideas. She suggests supporting 38b substitute measure.
Hahn pushes for details…”I want to hear in a much finer grained way what the communities thoughts are…not the broad brush stroke.” For those who dont’ like the chart, “this is suggestive…of the questions that we would HAVE TO ADDRESS should we even consider sanctioned camps. These questions would have to be addressed inevitably. In fact the attorney who spoke…the examples of SEattle she gave, those are tied to agencies. They are run by social service agencies. So let’s look at details of what we are talking about. We need conversations with homeless, not just FTC but representatives of the entire community.”
Bartlett — would the city legally be able to give sanctioned camp to one group? He asked the city attorney. The attorney says that you have to go thru a competitive process to dispose of city property, it’s a more involved process. You cannot just “give land” to a certain group.
Worthington — clearly the city of Berkeley has not fixed the problem of homelessness in the city. We have not come up with a solution. Number 2 various individuals are attacking the mayor as if he has the power to do this. We do not have a strong mayor form of government, he alone cannot decide. It’s on all 9 of us to come up with solutions. The other who gets attacked is the city manager. The city manager is implementing the policy of the city. So if you attack these people you are attacking city policy. We are the people who make the policy as a team. We have to get 5 votes or more for policy, so don’t blame one person. Finally, we have powerful recommendations from Human Welfare commission, Homeless commission, Grey Panthers Peace and Justice commission, we have 5 proposals on the table. I think we can encourage the commissions to have their own meetings, and fundamentally it comes down to us and we need to decide.
Maio says that “I dont’ think anybody’s fixed the challenge of homelessness…I dont’ think there is will to have a sanctioned encampment here, and I’ll tell you why…because then people from all around the area will come here for it. I am still looking at the informal camp that regulated well. But services have to come into it. I don’t think you can have a standalone thing and do well with it. I was impressed with the informal camp. I would like to figure out some way that we could not be careless in how we interface with people trying to figure out something for themselves. I just dont’ think a sanctioned encampment is doable and I dont’ want to lead people down that path.
Mayor — getting people into housing is the solution, and we are spending more than any other city in the county on that. I would like a more robust analysis and input. That doesn’t mean I would vote for a sanctioned camp.
My take on this is that the City Council as a whole (excepting Davila) is much smarter than the people who somehow think that the simplistic idea of “giving land” to FTC is going to be a great idea to help solve the homeless problem. Sophie Hahn has led the pursuit of reason in this nonsensical endeavor, indicating that “we need details” , and “we need to flesh this out…we need more than broad brush strokes.” I feel embarrassed actually by how many people in Berkeley, even really smart people like the attorney Bauman, are speaking up in favor of something so vague and undefined as just open-endedly “granting land” to one particular group…especially the group that’s been most interested in suing the city. The City Council sees through this and I very much doubt they will be allowing any “sanctioned camp” , especially just for one group. If they do allow a camp at some point in the future, it will not be one run by homeless people, but one run by a service agency, as Hahn pointed out, is the case with all SEattle camps that the speakers were referring to.
I’m continually frustrated at seeing what is clearly a federal and state problem, be addressed primarily at the city level. Homelessness is not something that can be solved city by city. To look at it that way, would be similar to people with various medical needs, demanding that a city or even a particular doctor, provide health care for them. Just as health care cannot be an issue that is resolved city by city, neither is homelessness.
We badly need adequate shelter for all those who have no shelter. And this is a matter for state and federal governments to address.