Most Unique Homeless Camp

One of the phenomena associated with homeless camps, is that as the number of homeless persons rises and there is more competition for available public spaces to camp, we see camps sprouting up in some unusual places. Driving on a Bay Area freeway, I once saw a tent that had been set up literally between two lanes of traffic on the freeway — the onramp and the freeway proper.

But the winner for “most unique homeless camp” award goes to this camper, who set up a tent on top of the roof of a train station in Antioch:

https://www.eastbaytimes.com/2018/03/12/police-evict-homeless-person-camping-atop-amtrak-station-in-antioch/

Seems like a heck of a lot of work to get up there and back down again!

1st Place Award

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Oakland Mayor Takes Steps on Homelessness

Libby Schaaf, Mayor of Oakland, continues to work on the homeless issue, and has recently announced some concrete steps taken/plans made.

The problem of homelessness and exploding numbers of homeless camps in Oakland has been noted in many articles about the problem, as well as in huge numbers of complaints from area residents living nearby some of the biggest homeless camps, which are a very serious nuisance for neighborhoods.

https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Homeless-camps-becoming-entrenched-in-Oakland-11240395.php

Problems like this:

Oakland Department of Public Works crews removed 50 tons of garbage that morning from the camp on a median along two blocks of 12th Street near Interstate 880. The trash had accumulated in the month since Public Works’ last big cleanup there.

The mayor’s most recent work is reflected in this announcement:

http://myemail.constantcontact.com/Update-on-Homeless-Encampments-and-Tuff-Sheds-in-Oakland.html?soid=1104087626438&aid=vZBmE9gEL5w

Dear Oaklanders,

Last week, I had the privilege of attending a residents’ meeting at Oakland’s first “Tuff Shed shelter.” About 25 people gathered under a canvas tent in the common area for their weekly meeting where they share concerns and celebrate accomplishments.

As many Oaklanders know, the pilot site is located at the corner of 6th and Castro streets and houses up to 40 residents in 20 temporary structures. The secured location allows residents to receive basic services while working with case managers to transition into rapid re-housing facilities and permanent housing.

Two and a half months into our pilot program, here are some early take-aways:
44 people from the surrounding encampment voluntarily moved onto the site
Eight people have moved from the site and into transitional or permanent housing
15 people have had job interviews
30 people received their California ID cards
The surrounding six-block encampment area – once one of Oakland’s largest – was dismantled.
The area remains free and clear of any debris and street camping.
Here’s one more number shared at the group meeting: 30 days.
Residents applauded one of their peers for reaching 30 days of sobriety while living at the site.

Tony, a case manager, reminded us that it is hard to get clean – and even harder while living on the streets.

But the site afforded a consistency not found in the encampments: A hard roof to sleep under every night. A community of friends and resources. A supportive staff of counselors to drive residents to meetings for addiction treatment, job interviews, and potential housing appointments.

I mention all of this because I want Oaklanders to know that our pilot program – while not perfect nor a “solution” to homelessness – is showing signs of success.

The site allows us to address the homeless encampment crisis head-on and right now, rather than wait one more moment.
The encampments pose a public health and safety hazard for all Oaklanders, most of all those who live in them. For those living beneath tarps, the conditions are harsh, cold, and dehumanizing, often sleeping among vermin and waste. For those who walk and drive by, mounds of debris block sidewalks and spill into traffic lanes. Fires have torn through encampments, including one that that tragically claimed the life of a resident last week.

We need to build more Tuff Shed shelter sites and clear more encampments. This is a compassionate and humane means to resolve encampments, and we need to replicate it quickly.

The progress at 6th and Castro has encouraged us to open the next site at Northgate Ave. and 27th Street, just off the Interstate 980 West Grand Ave. exit. Once again, we’ll work with our generous community partners to help fund and build and maintain the site. As done previously, we’ll conduct weeks of outreach with nearby housed residents and with residents in the adjacent encampment to prepare them for their community’s transition, and make operational improvements to better serve the residents as we put them on a path to housing.

Meanwhile, we continue to address the need for more transitional and permanent affordable housing. The city is close to acquiring a former SRO hotel that will provide more transitional housing and services with the goal of rapid re-housing, similar to our successful Henry Robinson Multi-Service Center, which houses 300 recently homeless people each year and has an 88 percent success rate of placing clients into permanent housing when they exit.

We also recently announced new financial incentives for Oakland landlords to rent to Section 8 voucher holders. For a range of reasons, Oakland has lost Section 8 units in recent years and we want to encourage property owners to maintain their affordable housing units.

We are also working with Oakland’s faith community to use church parking lots as safe places for people who live in their cars. Housing specialists and service providers would visit the lots to help those residents move toward housing.

Recognizing that cities cannot tackle this issue alone, Oakland recently joined two strong coalitions to generate more revenue to fight the crisis.

In January, we joined a 14-city group, “Mayors and CEOs for U.S. Housing Investment,” that aligns business partners with local governments to seek federal money for affordable housing and homeless services.

I also went to Sacramento this week with mayors from California’s largest cities to announce legislation that would commit $1.5 billion from the state budget surplus to cities for homeless services.

That’s the “right now” plan in Oakland as we continue with our long-term “17K/17K” plan to protect 17,000 units of affordable housing while building 17,000 new units of housing by 2024 – and we’re headed for a record year of building.

In 2018, we anticipate completing roughly 3,600 units of new housing in Oakland – that’s triple the amount we’ve ever built in a single year. We also have roughly 15,000 units in the pipeline, to be completed in the years to come, which will help alleviate housing demands and ease rental prices.

And yet, we all still have more work to do.

Back at the residents’ meeting, along with their accomplishments, I also heard concerns. The residents asked for more electricity to charge cell phones and provide lighting in the early morning hours, when some are headed to work. Others asked for more storage space for their possessions.

As we ended our meeting there was one more round of applause, this time followed by hugs.

The group was bidding farewell to a woman who, with the help of the on-site case managers, recently found an affordable room to rent and would move off the site later in the week.

“Everybody’s goal is to find housing,” one resident said. “Everybody is looking forward to this day coming for them, too.”
We appreciate all of Oakland’s patience, assistance, and compassion.

We are working every day to address this crisis and, ultimately, find a hard roof for every unsheltered resident.

Sincerely,

Libby

KEEP ME POSTED. BE IN TOUCH.
You can also reach out via email by clicking on the icon above or through social media. I’m on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You can also sign up for more regular alerts from my office using our gov.delivery system. We’re also on NextDoor.

Office of Mayor Libby Schaaf, City of Oakland, 1 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, 3nd Floor, Oakland, CA 94612

UPDATE April 2018

The city of Oakland is buying an old SRO hotel to house 140 homeless people.

https://hoodline.com/2018/04/oakland-city-council-votes-to-buy-building-for-homeless-shelter

Oakland has done more than other Bay Area cities to find unique solutions to sheltering the homeless, including setting up sanctioned encampments using tuff-sheds or other temporary/small structures.

They set up their first tuff-shed camp in the area of Brush Street and 6th near downtown Oakland.

Oakland tuff shed shelters (2)

They set up their second sanctioned camp called “The Village” at East 12th Street and 23rd AVenue.

VILLAGE HOMELESS ENCAMPMENT

They are now setting up a third sanctioned camp in the area of Northgate and 27th street.

Northgate and 27th sanctioned camp
___________________________________________________________________________

It’s interesting to note that although “money issues” is listed as the primary cause of homelessness (from interviews with the homeless), when data about mental illness and substance abuse among the homeless is presented, we see that a huge number of homeless (around 31 to 45%) have one or both of these issues — similar to the study done by the City of Berkeley. This data is from the SF Chronicle article cited earlier in this article:

This suggests that although the homeless are saying that “money issues” cause them to be homeless, it’s more likely that mental health issues and/or substance abuse issues are the cause.

UPDATE JUNE 2018:

An East Bay Times article reports that Oakland is planning to spend millions to “fight homelessness and illegal dumping” on city streets.  Sadly, it’s pretty common both in Oakland and Berkeley, to see large amounts of illegal dumping right next to “no dumping” signage.

Illegal dumping in Oakland

JUNE 27 2018:

Oakland will do a pilot program where they pay homeless people to pick up trash. This makes a lot of sense to me and many of us have been suggesting this for a long time.

Sanctioned Homeless Encampments in Berkeley? Not Likely.

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.

FTC At City Hall

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:
http://berkeley.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?publish_id=bf1334b8-11b4-11e8-94a9-00505691de41

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.
Miekeljohn INstitute Letter to Berkeley re Landless People 1Miekeljohn INstitute Letter to Berkeley re Landless People 2

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 Screenshot (3656)

A South BErkeley resident speaks…she asks the city to take the Here/There fence down.

COUNCIL SPEAKS:

Sophie HahnCouncilmember 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 HarrisonKate 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.

Berkeley City Council Candidate Cheryl DavilaDavila 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!)

Lori DrosteDroste 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.”

Ben BartlettBartlett — 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.

Kriss WorthingtonWorthington — 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.

OAK-BERKCOUNCIL1-09XXMaio 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.

Jesse ArreguinMayor — 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.

OVERALL —
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.

Faith Based Approaches to Homelessness

In this article I want to explore the contribution that faith organizations (various religious organizations, not necessarily only Christian) make to helping the homeless.
Religious symbols circle

Some of the assistance is just at the very practical level of churches building homeless shelters and running them. I did not realize it, but 60% of homeless shelter space in the US, is run by faith based groups. 

However, faith based approaches to homelessness have more to offer than just practical help and hands and feet on the ground, or in the dining room serving meals to the poor and needy. Faith organizations can offer something that many nonprofit and government run programs cannot, which is a meaningful worldview, and relationships in a community with a focus beyond the mission to the homeless.Benedict 2 Joseph Labre Patron Saint of Homeless

Given the lack of homeless shelters in the Bay Area, there has been a suggestion that local churches might construct homeless shelters on their property.

So far one shelter has been built, located at West Side Missionary Baptist church. The goal is to have several hundred more, spread throughout the county, by the end of the year.

THis is being called a “Faith Based Solution to Homelessness”

Screenshot (3648)

There is some thought that faith-based approaches to homelessness may be more successful than standard government approaches, as they take a more holistic approach. A study about such approaches can be found here. Another study is here. A very substantial 146 page study is here.

Also see it here:

Institute for Studies of Religion Faith Based approach to Homelessness

Faith based groups are more oriented than government groups to focus on the causes of homelessness, rather than simply treating the symptoms. This is needed for programs to be effective in the longer term, and avoid people simply being circled in and out of housing when people with deeper problems that make them difficult to house end up evicted again when these problems are not treated.

From this article:

These programs are tailored to the core causes of homelessness – including poverty, unemployment, domestic violence, addiction, incarceration, health and affordable housing – rather than its symptoms.

In particular, the value of a faith based approach to homelessness might be in emphasizing the value to all persons, of relationships and community:

“There are many factors that enter into homelessness, such as job loss, physical or mental disability, domestic violence, mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction, and others. But one important factor that is frequently overlooked is the breakdown of relationships and community that occurs when people become homeless. People don’t become homeless when they run out of money, at least not right away. They become homeless when they run out of relationships. And this means that the solution to homelessness necessarily involves a reestablishment of relationships and community.”

The broader and more holistic approach to homeless persons is depicted in this chart showing services provided by the Atlanta Mission, a faith based organization in Atlanta GA:

Screenshot (3650)

A faith based group in Baltimore, MD called the “Helping Up Mission” or HUM discovered in the 1990’s that the best way to help the poor and the homeless was by offering services for drug and alcohol addiction.

“….but by the 1990s it became clear that the best way to help these men was to address the issue of drug and alcohol addiction. In 1995, HUM created the 12-month residential recovery and job readiness (RRJR) program called the Spiritual Recovery Program. “

Though faith based organizations do such widespread and invaluable work with helping the homeless, as I see it, there is a considerable irony in that the considerable spiritual power of these religious groups may not often be deployed in assisting such needy individuals. The faith based groups indeed have the potential to bring a more holistic approach and healing to bear on the lives of these needy, but apparently they have to hold back on the treasures that they possess. The report by the INstitute for Studies of Religion suggests that the spiritual support and whole-lifestyle support offered by the faith based groups is minor in comparison to the practical support offered through homeless shelters, meals, funds made available for rental housing or medical needs, as well as through various forms of lobbying.

The Denver Road Home group stated:

We are not a direct service agency, but we do play four important roles in addressing homelessness in the city. First, we are conveners, utilizing our place within the mayor’s office as a bully pulpit to encourage collective action. Second, we act as advocates for the homeless and their service providers, keeping the problem of homeless in the public eye. Third, we help promote innovation, particularly as it relates to the unique challenges of new types of homeless populations, such as we have seen among families and youth. Fourth, we play an important role in sustaining programs aimed at both serving the homeless with dignity and reducing homelessness altogether. While technically we only serve the city, we really are the only organized city funded effort to address homelessness in the entire metro region.

Homeless on streetThe Denver Rescue Mission made a clearer statement about how they hold back the religion in their approach:

I think that what we are learning is that Bible thumping doesn’t work, and what we need to get better at is developing relationships with the people we are trying to help. What that means, in many instances, is we are planting the seed and ploughing the field, in spiritual terms, and maybe someone else reaps the harvest in the form of a transformed life.

However, they still took a “holistic” approach to the needy whom they served, and in taking this approach they went further than many homeless service agencies which are too exclusively focused only on housing, and not on building up the individual such that they can retain that housing:

The first step in our process to develop outcomes reporting was to determine what success means for someone going through our program. We identified four key outcomes: they (1) provide for their own housing; (2) maintain full-time employment; (3) are connected to a healthy community like a church; and (4) demonstrate success in overcoming destructive habits. Our next challenge was to ensure that all program goals and activities were contributing to the four main outcomes we are trying to achieve.

Homeless lying on streetIN Indianapolis IN, the city government has no homeless shelters, but a faith based organization runs the only homeless shelter available there. A representative of this group said:

Indianapolis holds the distinction of being one of the only major U.S. cities of its size that does not have a municipally-operated shelter. Instead, the city depends primarily on the faith community, especially WMM, toserve as the safety net of all safety nets for homelessness (i.e., emergency shelter)…
my view is that so long as government doesn’t fund religion directly, it (the government)should be able to support social services to which faith-based organizations may add a religious component. That is, if a church runs a homeless shelter with beds paid for by government, it shouldn’t be prevented from asking its guests to pray once a day

Trinity Rescue Mission in Jacksonville FL discovered that 75% of the homeless it attempted to help could not be helped because of addiction issues or lack of very basic self care skills.

Between day 30 and 45 of our beginning program downtown, we typically lose 2/3 of our program participants because they are not ready to take the necessary steps towards self-sufficiency and sobriety.

It seems this also goes to show that, contrary to what many assert, the homeless are not, by and large, “just like you and me.” They are not primarily people who “just” lost their housing. Rather the large majority of them tend to have very serious problems in basic ability to function in the world. Hence, again I have to suggest that using the term “homeless” to refer to all those living on the streets, may be misleading — the old terms “drunk” or “bum” or “derelict”, while problematic in the judgmentalism and denigration involved in such terminology, may nevertheless more accurately describe and point to the deeper problem.

In essence, most though not all homeless are people who did not just “somehow” become homeless, but quite predictably became homeless because they made bad choices and became so heavily involved in drugs and alcohol, that their lives began to go down the toilet. They fell into the gutter. Or down a dark hole. They are spending their days shitfaced.

One of the difficulties in helping the homeless, then, is the necessity to “beat around the bush” to some extent, to avoid being judgmental which is not helpful for those who’ve fallen very deep down a hole. Their sense of self-worth is already very damaged, and so those who would help them cannot risk touching this tender area or wound in the psyche by coming across as judgmental. To be effective in helping these deeply lost souls, requires a careful touch — an art, the right balance of taking a loving and compassionate approach, refraining from judgment, but also not ignoring the fact that people may well have made themselves homeless through their self-destructive behavior. A balance needs to be struck — offering help but also requiring those being helped, that they be willing to change. Appealing to the “better person” inside the lost soul is definitely an art form and a high and noble calling, which we greatly admire any homeless service worker’s ability to do.

A group in Portland called “My Father’s House” has the following approach:

1. Relationships: MFH believes that for families to be successful requires unconditional love and a healthy family relationship with their residents. Trust is essential, and MFH accomplishes this trust through MFH’s relationship with each family member.
2. Responsibility: MFH never does anything for families they can do for themselves. MFH expects each family to be responsible for their own actions. MFH provides encouragement, personal support, and helpful actions that do not undermine a family’s sense of self-worth.
3. Accountability: Expecting families to be responsible can only be accomplished if MFH is also willing to hold them accountable for their behavior, actions, and motivation.

In looking over the report about how faith-based communities help the homeless , it seems that much of what is provided to the homeless by faith-based organizations is not really related to their faith or religious way of life — very practical and basic immediate needs for shelter and food and clothing are addressed. Advocacy for the homeless is done, even to the point of “bullying” city government to do more to address their needs. However, such work is not directly related to faith or a religious way of life. The faithful are themselves experiencing a way to express their principles by caring for others, but if they are not able to effect the spiritual lives of those they help, the assistance is not as faith-rich as it might otherwise be. It is when the faith communities have an opportunity to help these needy persons in a more holistic way and address their deeper problems and self-destructive behaviors– and in essence, their lack of connection to God and spirit — where I think the deeper healing could occur. A writer named Marvin Olasky wrote a book called “The Tragedy of AMerican Compassion” in which he points out that ironically, we “used to do charity better” in the 19th and early 20th century, when we asked those who were helped, to provide something in return. By asking those who received help to give back, we enabled them to build self-respect, a kind of self-respect that is difficult to come by when you live in total dependency upon others and are encouraged in that dependency by standard liberal progressive views that the government “owes” you something, even for the rest of your life.
Tragedy of American Compassion

It is admittedly a difficult balance to find a way to help those who’ve fallen down a deep hole of self-destructive behavior, without either ignoring or minimizing the serious consequences of that behavior on the one hand, or on the other hand coming across as judgmental and putting the person off so that you are not able to help them at all. However, I believe that in order to really to solve this Homeless Quandary, it is vitally necessary to address it in this deeper way, at the cause, rather than shallowly by only looking at the symptoms.
This is the balance that faith communities need to strike, and perhaps they more than any other organizations helping the homeless, are uniquely advantaged to bring this holistic approach to this vexing and growing problem of homelessness and addiction in the US.

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

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

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

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

I was astonished and disturbed to read about the absolutely enormous amount of time taken up by “homeless” issues. Exactly what these issues were was not clarified, and clarification is needed. Residents of the city deserve to know how police are spending their time and clearly the City Council needs this information, as they are facing a mass exodus of police officers

(as reported here:)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4VtvYH5LFxk

who are apparently quite fatigued with this problem, as well as struggling with the lack of support in a progressive city which has commissions and organizations, “Watchdog” committees, often demanding justification from police for their taking action and enforcing the law. If police can choose to work in a city which supports them in enforcing the law, versus one where they are scolded or harshly criticized for doing so, why would they choose the latter? Why would anyone choose to work in a more stressful environment where they are often kept from doing their job effectively? This is one of the questions Berkeley City Council must examine as they work to come up with policy on the homeless issue.

Moreover, other cities face similar problems.  In Portland, it’s reported that the majority of arrests in 2017, were arrests of homeless people.  I think we collectively need to realize that those we call “homeless” are not as well described by that term, than by other terms such as “drug addict” or “criminal” or person completely out of control.

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

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

6.20.250 Vehicle or trailer parking in marina areas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6.20.260 Overnight camping in marina land areas prohibited.

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

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

This Berkeley Municipal Code info is found here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homeless issues also are increasingly impacting BART.

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

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

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

https://www.bart.gov/news/articles/2017/news20171016-1

This article includes this statement:

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

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

And this article.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ezjgLWrUQl0

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

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

And here is another story about this issue.

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

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

Security guards carry syringe disposal kits on their tool belts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Lift My Lamp Beside the Berkeley Pier

The Torch has been passed, from the East Coast to the West. 

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

— Emma Lazarus, poem of the Statue of Liberty

Jesse and Torch City Hall FTC final

Jesse et al say no to RV family final

RV people contemplate

Jesse et al say yes

See whole cartoon as a PDF document:

I Lift My Lamp Beside the Berkeley Pier

So is All Public Space Up For Grabs…?

I joked about this with a few friends, but was amazed to find out it really happened.

After a series of homeless camps on street medians began popping up in prominent, central places such as street medians all over Berkeley, I noticed a number of people were concerned that public spaces were now being viewed as a “free for all” where anyone could just plop themselves down and set up a permanent home.  I referred to many of these campers as “homesteaders”, when it became clear that they were actually really comfortable living in tents in street medians or on sidewalks, and were at times refusing available shelter spaces.  For all intents and purposes, their tents were their “homes” and they were homesteaders on public land.  With one small problem….street medians and other public land in cities is not available for homesteading or other permanent private use.  Or is it?

 

might-be1

The passivity of the city of Berkeley and Oakland with regard to many of these camps, suggested that some in the city Council were inclined to think people had a right to seize public lands for homesteading.

I joked, that there were other people with other needs in the city.  Others who, perhaps, had homes…but were short on space.  Due perhaps to the increasingly high cost of housing, (or perhaps just due to their own tendency for hoarding) some people were finding themselves with less and less space available for all their “stuff.”   Wouldn’t they too qualify as people with a right to grab public space to appropriate for their private needs?  As far as that goes, is anyone even checking credentials to see if we qualify in any way, when we just grab space for our private use in a park or sidewalk or a street median?  Does one have to “prove” one is homeless, to have the “right” to set up a tent and store one’s things on a sidewalk or in a street median? I have not heard that cities are checking.

So, instead of being called homeless, these people who had run short of storage space in their homes could be called “space-less” people.  And as I saw it,  if public land was now apparently “up for grabs” for anyone who had a need, then they too had a valid claim on public land, just like the homeless-turned-homesteaders did. I then joked with some friends, tongue-in-cheek, saying that we should imitate the homeless-turned- homesteaders and we should set up a tent on a street median and start hauling over some of the things in our garages and backyards that we no longer had space to store, and use these public areas to store our stuff…..since it was clear that public space was up for grabs.

We had a little laugh and then went our ways.

But I had to gasp when I discovered that my joking idea for making a point about the problem with city passivity about public spaces, had actually come real!

I was looking over the 311 website for Oakland reading a couple reports on illegal dumping, when I noticed a report that someone had made for a large pile of items on a sidewalk in the Rockridge area of Oakland.  It turns out that someone, a housed person who was not homeless but had their own apartment, had actually started appropriating a sidewalk in the Rockridge area, to store a large amount of belongings that he could not fit in his own apartment!

https://en.seeclickfix.com/issues/4049259-illegal-dumping-debris-appliances-etc

See also:

Housed person using public sidewalk to store their belongings Oakland Jan 2018

This led to a controversy in the neighborhood, because as you can see when reading this report, some people actually were defending this person’s “right” to use public space to store his belongings. And by failing to take action on the issue, the city of Oakland was enabling the appropriation of public lands such as sidewalks, street medians or other areas, for private uses, such as personal storage of one’s belongings.

Photo of his things on the public sidewalk:

So…the moral of the story is…that things we think are parodies of the potential results of city passivity, can become real. If cities dont’ start taking control of public spaces, these public spaces may end up increasingly appropriated or grabbed by people for a variety of private uses.

How much public space can people appropriate for their own personal uses? Does one have to be homeless to grab public space for oneself, or might one simply be “space-less”?

Here’s a story about something that posed a similar question in Brooklyn:

https://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/Streetside-Pile-of-Belongings-Frustrates-Brooklyn-Residents-446256423.html

In Oakland, city officials noted with concern that some of the more massive homeless camps in that city, had apparently begun to attract illegal dumpers, who viewed the camps as convenient sites to just pitch their unwanted crap.  These city officials expressed some concern/surprise over this, but why? I mean why were they at all surprised that illegal dumpers would not have a light bulb go on in their minds, when they saw that lots of other people were apparently getting away with being allowed to haul in a bunch of garbage onto public spaces like sidewalks or parks.  ideaThat anyone in City Council was surprised by this reveals to me the notable and serious lack of imagination among City Council members.  For me it was rather, why wouldnt’ people dump their garbage at homeless camps.?  They had seen so  clearly that the green light was being given to put one’s private belongings into public space.  When you give people an invitation, regarding something that they have a need for, they are going to take you up on it!  Sprawling, squalid, trash-filled homeless camps are that clear invite that simply screams, “bring your unwanted crap and dump it here!”  What to do about the problem? The city considered.  It foolishly tried to solve the problem by putting large dumpsters at homeless camps.  But, you don’t solve the problem of inadvertently making it seem like you’re begging people to come dump their unwanted stuff, by making it even easier and more welcoming to dump your unwanted stuff.  The dumpsters got filled up or torched.

Illegal dumping is a huge problem in Oakland, and in part I believe that’s due to the broken window effect, where squalor and blight invites more squalor and blight.  It is likely also due to a seriously dysfunctional and anti-social  subculture, wherein people have been schooled by the “soft bigotry” of liberal racism, that they are not responsible for their own actions.  A number of people have been schooled by the liberal racism/bigotry of low expectations for years to believe that they aren’t expected to do like others and advance through their own efforts, but rather, since “there is structural racism” or “there is a fascist system controlling society” and the system is stacked against them, they are entitled just to sit back and hold out their hand,  making little effort on their own behalf, since apparently they have no agency and no power, no free choice, no responsibility. They can just give up,  and remain dependent on  government  to provide them everything they need in life.  And a place to dump their garbage for free would clearly be part of that.  40c0d13d3afa681742fbe9791ad8d435-minimum-cleanses

So if you want to end illegal dumping, we can start by teaching people that they are, in fact, responsible for their own behavior.  As long as we keep preaching that it’s always the “system”  to blame, then it’s the system (eg the city government) which is going to end up having to follow along after the anti-social folks it creates and pick up the trash they keep throwing out their car window.

Feb 3 2018 Update: An article about the appropriation of public space/land for private use has recently appeared in Berkeleyside, see it here:

http://www.berkeleyside.com/2018/02/02/opinion-homeless-stay-called-homesteaders/

a place to reflect on stories, concerns, condundrums, enigmas and potential solutions for homelessness