Public Comment

Commentary: Options Recovery and the Public Commons

By Dan McMullan
Tuesday December 04, 2007

I like Judith Scherr. She puts in long hours trying to get the story right and it’s not too easy in a town that has become as shady as our Berkeley has become of late. So I will forgive her if she has failed to see what the true purpose behind what is known to us as Options Recovery Services. When I went public a few months ago with my opposition to the mayor and City Council giving Options $200,000 at a time when food and housing to the poor was being cut by precisely the same amount, Judith asked me a good question. “How successful does a program have to be before you would support it?” It was busy and loud in the council chambers that night and I didn’t get to answer her. 

But I sure have thought about it a lot since then. 

I guess if a program helped just one person and turned his or her life around that would be enough for me. But I could not ever support a program that led to someone’s death or that regularly uses and supports the brutalization of the poor by jailing them for doing things that are legal for others that are more fortunate. I am sure that a few people that weren’t killed outright or beat too senseless by real criminals, have found a way to get their lives back to a semblance of normalcy. But there are many (myself included) that still feel a tremendous amount of anger at the beatings they (and I) endured because Options Director Dr. Davida Coady (and this is a God’s honest direct quote) felt that I “need to feel the pain of my addiction.” The pain of having my leg ripped off, my pelvis and back shattered, my arm and ribs broken, just to name a few of the injuries that put me on the streets, wasn’t enough. 

But what hurt most of all was being labeled a criminal because of my newfound poverty. Take a quick look at the Options website and you will see it all right there in a nut shell. Wherever homelessness is mentioned it is coupled with “crime” and “drug abuse.” The website talks about homeless “offenders” while throwing in words like “dignity” to really confuse folks. A quick look at their board of directors shows what this “recovery” program is really all about. Their president is a police captain while their vice president is a probation officer. George Beier, who shaped his entire campaign for City Council on whipping up fear and hatred for the poor and homeless, is in there as well. 

They’re a scary group with a big job to do. Make sure that anyone unfortunate enough to get caught in the Options web is made to “feel the pain.” 

Now it might be possible that city officials and others are really bamboozled by the smoke and mirror act that is put on by Options with their graduation ceremonies and their loading of council meetings with paid staff that gush about how jail changed their lives for the better. But it’s really hard to believe. Has none of them checked out their website? And are their memories so short that while Davida Coady raves about how much the state has saved with the passing of Prop. 36, Options actually lobbied against Prop. 36? 

The only recovery program in the state to do so. 

And now they are the only program that supposedly works for the homeless to support the punitive measures of the Public Commons Initiative. 

This all from a program that is working out of the Oakland courts serving mostly Oakland people and leaving them at our door step. It’s time for us to open our eyes and see or at least acknowledge what is we are buying at the expense of our most vulnerable people.  

We might not be able to do very much about those around the world being brutalized for being poor. But we can stop it here. Ask the mayor and City Council to let Oakland and the courts pay for their program and to restore all funds taken from food and housing programs in Berkeley. 


Dan McMullan is a member of the Disabled People Outside Project.