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Man Arrested In Massive Caffe Med Cop-Op, Back On Streets In Four Hours

By Ted Friedman
Friday February 17, 2012 - 09:11:00 AM
Entering men's shelter.
Ted Friedman
Entering men's shelter.
Homeless man awaits an opening in one of three shelter "cells" at the Berkeley men's shelter, in the basement of the Veteran's Memorial Building.
Ted Friedman
Homeless man awaits an opening in one of three shelter "cells" at the Berkeley men's shelter, in the basement of the Veteran's Memorial Building.
We moved Michael's belongings, Sunday, including the broom, from behind a car in a parking space--to alongside the apartment building. Mid-week, he had not returned.
Ted Friedman
We moved Michael's belongings, Sunday, including the broom, from behind a car in a parking space--to alongside the apartment building. Mid-week, he had not returned.
Lockers for homeless gear, at Berkeley Men's Shelter.
Ted Friedman
Lockers for homeless gear, at Berkeley Men's Shelter.

After yet another Caffe Med Berkeley Cop-Op Friday, to restrain a mentally ill man, it seemed the man was on his way to a forty-eight hour mental evaluation. But that's not the way it went down, as the Cop-Op devolved into a cop-out. 

As we reported in the Planet Saturday, the latest in a string of BPD cop-ops at the Med, Berkeley's—if not the world's—most notorious coffee house/cafe, started out as what seemed a routine 5150. 

Routine or not, the police intervention at the Med had required five squad cars; and a fire-truck; and an ambulance; and a squad of police; and plenty of paramedics. 

To Southsiders, the 5150, a police action to protect the public and the mentally ill from harm, is part of the Southside scene. Although not always, a 5150 invariably leads to a minimum 48 hours psych-hold, for evaluation. 

But a tipster in the Med said that Michael, busted Friday night, was back in the Med Saturday morning. He was, inexplicably, sweeping the floor with a straw broom. 

I was incredulous, even talked my tipster friend into a case of mistaken identity. But the next day I saw Michael near the Med where he had been busted on Friday. 

He said that he had been released from an emergency room four hours after his arrest. 

"They shot me up with a drug cocktail, I lay around at a doctor's house, and they released me." 

Michael was desperate for cigarette money, saying if he didn't get some cash for smokes, he'd steal them. I emptied out the slim assets in my billfold, $12, and handed it over. 

"I can get two packs with this," he noted. 

Michael doesn't remember which emergency room he was in, but he knows he didn't have to go to John George, a mental health treatment facility, something he had demanded, when he was arrested. 

Michael and I headed downtown for an agency I believed could help him. It was Sunday. I just wanted to show him the offices where someone could save him once more. Michael had been saved, and been lost, many times. 

First we had to visit the site where Michael had parked his shopping cart packed with his most recent belongings. 

He had parked his cart in a parking space behind a car. I pointed out that the car's owner would have busted the cart, and we moved it to a nearby walkway.  

Michael wanted to carry his broom. The broom was one of his shopping cart treasures. He said the broom showed he was willing to work. I said we should leave it behind. 

So we set out for downtown, without the broom. On our way, we discussed mutual friends, especially David, who was a schizophrenic who died a few years ago. It was David whom Michael was "contacting" when he was busted at the Med, calling in artillery directed by David, his field commander. 

Michael told a story from his childhood in Traverse City, Michigan, when he and his pals had dug a deep hole to China to bury a squirrel He had lived on a lake on the outskirts of town, he said. 

I had lived on such a lake the summer I worked in Traverse City, 50 years ago. This had been the basis of our friendship over the years. 

We now made our way to the mental health agency offices, closed, I thought, where I wanted Michael to go Monday. I just wanted to show him where it was. I got briefly lost, myself, but when I knocked on the door, someone directed us elsewhere after we asked him for a belt.  

Michael now desperately needed a belt to support his ill-fitting pants. We headed for Goodwill, where Michael lifted a belt.  

"How do you do that?" I asked. "They don't bother me," he said. He showed me a wallet he had lifted. The world was his oyster. 

In a Berkeley Shelter 

The homeless outreach program's caseworkers operate out of a basement in Berkeley's historic dstrict, across from Civic Center Park, and old City Hall (1906). Our destination, the 1928 Veteran's Memorial Building, has seen better days. It houses such agencies as the Berkeley Historical Society,and a Berkeley historical museum. 

But the basement belongs to a local drug and mental health program and a men's shelter. Emerging from a side walkway, we entered what had once been a splendid courtyard, but now hosting homeless men sprawled helplessly on the ground, perhaps waiting for shelter beds, not yet available. 

Michael had probably been there before. He noticed that I had taken a wrong turn, and declined to use the men's room, for some reason. He said that he absolutely wouldn't use it. 

The few men we saw inside seemed depressed. The man in charge showed us where Michael would go to meet with a case manager the next day, when the offices would be manned. 

Michael said there was no way he would ever stay in the men's shelter to our right—caged. That's right, three small "cells" with bunk beds secured by a metal gate. 

The shelter would not open for hours. Most of the men we saw were probably there to secure a bunk for the night. 

I considered the possibility dim that Michael could find his way to a case worker who could help him get his meds and disability check. No more than six months ago, I had directed him to help downtown, but he never made it there. 

Our visit was one day too soon to get help. 

As Michael lit up outside the memorial building, I said I'd walk ahead to the Berkeley library, a few blocks away. He said he'd catch up, but he didn't. 

I wasn't sure how I could arrange with him to go to the case worker, Monday, and remembered my own morning-appointment with my shrink, a possible schedule conflict.  

Too late, I realized I should have arranged to meet Michael at the Med,Monday and been his advocate with the case worker.  

The next day, when the case worker was available, it rained in torrents. Good for farmers, and reservoirs, but as a friend said—"not for the homeless."By mid-week, Michael had not shown up to see a case manager, even though he said he was unable to get his meds, or his disability check. 

Most of Ted Friedman's Planet articles begin on Berkeley's Southside, magnet for the mentally ill.