For the second time in less than a week, UC Berkeley officers have ripped apart the latest incarnation of a long-standing clothing donation box at People’s Park.
On Monday, UC Berkeley officers demolished two wooden crates that homeless advocates had placed the day before besides the park’s basketball court. A week earlier at the same site police ripped out the foundation for a new box that was to be made of clay, sand and straw.
The “free box” is one of People’s Park’s traditions, and the fight to restore it has reignited the battle between UC Berkeley and homeless advocates over the park.
“The university is stepping beyond its domain,” said Shan Masuda of Friends of People’s Park. “They’ve pulled out something that had been here for 10 to 15 years. We’re saying you can’t do that without consulting us.”
City Councilmember Kriss Worthington also objected to not being consulted by the university. He said the university has shut the city out of decisions about the park since it halted meeting of the People’s Park Advisory Board last November.
“I’m concerned about the secret and imperial nature of the university administration,” he said. “It’s my district, you’d think they would call me.”
People’s Park has gone without a free box since February when the last box, like its predecessor, was torched by arsonists.
Irene Hegarty, UC Berkeley’s director of community relations, said the university had warned homeless advocates that it would not permit them to rebuild the box at the park, which is university property.
Hegarty said the free box has been a costly nuisance to the university, whose employees are often left carting off “crates of trash,” from the park, including clothes and household appliances.
She said park users often throw free box items throughout the park and then fight over them. “There seems to be a problem with selling clothes at used clothing stores and using the money for alcohol,” she said.
On Sept. 18, about 35 homeless advocates staked eight-foot pillars into the ground as the first step in installing a six-by-ten-foot free box made from natural materials. Masuda said the new box was inspired by the state’s recent removal of homeless people’s belongings from the Albany Bulb.
The project was scheduled for completion last Sunday, but when UC police tore down the foundation last Wednesday, Friends of People Park called off the building project and instead brought in the two four-foot-by-four-foot wooden crates that police dismembered Monday.
“The free box is a necessity,” said Daniel Torrez, a local homeless man. “When there’s no free box, things get a lot dirtier and darker than they need to be,” he said.
Masuda saw the university’s hard line on the free box as a signal that it planned to remove homeless services from the park, but Hegarty said UC Berkeley had no grand designs for remaking the space.
“We don’t think the free box is an efficient way to get clothes to people who need it,” she said.1