Whether Berkeley continues to be a Hilton to the homeless or, instead, a Roach Motel ("the roaches check in but they do not check out!") may be little affected by a sit-lie ordinance, according to the street kids themselves.
That is, if a stalled sit-lie ordinance emerges. If it does, and if it is adopted, little will change, according to as many as 20 interviews I've conducted recently with "street tramps" as they call themselves. Berkeley is so attractive that it will continue to draw, according to my sources, those who refer to themselves as "street tramps," or "tramp kids."
The difference between tramps, hobos, and bums is not clear to everyone. But most sources slice it thus: a hobo is a man who travels to find work; a tramp is a man who travels but refuses to work; and a bum is a man who won't travel and won't work.
I was a bum for thirty years, thinly disguised. I mention this to alert my readers to my pro-street-tramp bias. These kids travel. And this romantic reporter, with ties to the street, digs what they do.
So what's so damnably attractive about Berkeley? You might as well ask yourself why you live here. Surely it's more than your rent-controlled apartment, which you suspect keeps you from moving to Southern France, or Paris. Dream on.
Could it be the free food and support services? The support services are well-funded, according to their directors, with both private and federal grants, but Berkeley Mental Health, and especially its street outreach programs have been drastically cut by an eviscerated city budget. Routine (street) mental health crisis-intervention has become rare, according to an official at BMH, who doesn't want to be named.
Free food is so good and plentiful that according to "Tennessee," 32, a drop-out carpenter from Portland, he's gained weight. He only expected to pass through but after a month, he's finding Berkeley irresistible. I directed him to my homeless campsite from the 80s, and he loves it there.
Food comes from Food Not Bombs, daily, in People's Park, and from local churches, who serve at their churches or deliver to the park. Berkeleyans are constantly dropping off food and clothes to the park, and some of my homeless friends dress more elegantly than I—thanks to "street-score." I recently donated hundreds of pennies to the Hate Man foundation. What can you donate?
They sleep in local parks, under bushes, or under roofs at churches, according to the kids; I see them descending from encampments in the hills. When I was homeless in the eighties, that was off-limits, but according to a source at The University, funding no longer supports foot patrols in the hills.
The price is right at Berkeley's Hilton to the homeless.
But should you even be supporting these street-tramp-bums? Aren't we enabling them in an ill-advised life-style choice? Where would they work in this economy, which is forecast to outlast the decade?
Three years ago, the Telegraph property owners—working with U.C.—hung banners on Teley light poles commemorating Berkeley's Nobel laureates, and businesses put photos in their windows memorializing the Sixties—to bring new feet to the street.
While throwing its resources at sit-lie, the businessmen may be overlooking an important tourist draw.
Our Street kids.
To some vocal supporters of the stalled sit-lie ordinance, Telegraph would do just fine without its colorful, often drunk and disorderly street performers. When Mike Diehl, a community organizer with B.O.S.S., presided over a recent People's Park planning meeting, he observed that the park was a world tourist draw—all the more reason for kids to sober and clean up when on Telegraph.
Some Teley businessmen (I could name them) are vehemently anti-the-kids, claiming their absence could only boost sales.
But tourists, reviewing Teley on-line, are more accepting, preferring the kids to boring
me-too shops (no names here, either). As one recently posted about Teley: "during the day it offers some incredible people watching. You have to step over the homeless, who themselves are by far pretty nice." Even when being stepped-over!
They're not only "pretty nice," they're goddamned adorable as my accompanying photos try to show.
Carol Denney, a local poet, song-writer-activist, was the first to note—in the Planet—that our street kids are an asset. Now I'll prove it. C.W. Nevius, pro-sit-lie in the Chronicle, has admitted that even though San Francisco's sit-lie ordinance, which inspires Berkeley's, is working—business is down.
Has no one googled "Slum Tourism" and found that tourists like to see the down and outters?
Proponents of sit-lie cite Santa Monica for dispelling the homeless. But according to the "traveling Street artists," (see accompanying photo), who avoid being photographed, street kids just don't like the mall-scene that dominates S.M.
According to the kids, they try to keep their travel options open, leaving when something like a festival elsewhere beckons. They come by road (hitching rides in Oregon is popular, and you see them along Interstate 5), rail, or space capsule. But some are crazy about Berkeley and have made Berkeley their home, as have Grinch and Butterfly (pregnant), Tennessee, and countless others.
What will the kids do if a sit-lie ordinance is passed and enforced (probably selectively to root out troublemakers, who are approximately eight percent of the homeless population)? A few said they would disobey such an ordinance until I informed them of the consequences. The others say, they love Berkeley so much, they would just—stand-up.
Now there's an elegant solution.
Why do they choose "the life?" According to a New York Times five-part homeless series last year, the economy and family tensions play a major role.
But you may prefer your analysis from rock stars like Neil Young: "You, who are on the road must have a code that you can live by; and so become yourself because the past
Is just a good-bye."
Finding your code to become yourself. When was the last time you put yourself to the test?
Ted Friedman, 72, has again managed to cross the boundaries between himself and his South side "sources." Although reported from the Southside, this piece was written from Ashland, Oregon, where Friedman interviewed the homeless on I-5, and more in Ashland.