Public Comment

New: New England Law Student Urges Berkeley Council to Vote Against Anti-Sitting Ordinance--Vermont Would Never Do This

By Branden Cote
Monday June 11, 2012 - 09:09:00 PM

Dear Councilmembers: I am from New Hampshire and I am a third year law student at Vermont Law School. I am committed to serving low-income clients and I have travelled to Berkeley this summer to intern as a homeless advocate. I am writing to you today to urge you to vote no on Tuesday to keep the Mayor’s anti-sitting proposal off of the ballot.

The causes of homelessness are the same on each coast, and the resulting downward spiral is one which is hard to reverse. Nobody wishes for a mental or physical disability, aspires to develop a substance abuse problem, tries to get fired, or chooses to be alienated from their pillars of support. All of the homeless clients I have worked with both here and back in Vermont would much prefer the ability to be self-sufficient over the terrible reality and insecurity of being without basic human necessities. 

Individuals facing homelessness and poverty in the rural area I am from typically shy away from the public because of the shame they feel from their inability to resolve their unfortunate situations. Here in Berkeley, homelessness and poverty are out in the open for everyone to observe. The meager justifications I have heard for this anti-sit proposal are embarrassing. I admit that I have felt uncomfortable when approached by pan-handlers on the street. Seeing homeless people on the sidewalk makes us feel ashamed; we avert our gaze and pretend they are invisible. Our basic human instinct is to help one another, and when we see somebody who is clearly disabled, unable to feed themselves, and seemingly beyond help, we get angry. Why should we be bothered with their problems when it is so hard to make a difference? 

If this proposal gets on the ballot it would allow people to act upon this feeling of uneasiness. If we cannot see them on the sidewalk, then we will not be forced to face those uncomfortable feelings when we know we want to do something but feel powerless. This proposal would solve nothing. This pushes the problem away from downtown to the residential districts. Facing the city’s problems with compassion is the mature response. Pushing them aside is morally weak and places these unfortunate citizens on a lower plane of existence. If this measure were passed, I doubt I would be cited if I were caught sitting on the sidewalk in downtown Berkeley because of the way I dress and talk. The measure is fundamentally discriminatory. 

Allowing this proposal to go to the ballot would be shameful. This would never even be considered in the urban centers of Vermont because of the strong sense of community responsibility. Citizens who feel uncomfortable with the homeless need the guidance and support of city officials. Doing the right thing is not easy, and the problems of the homeless can be addressed with appropriate community leadership. 

Regards, Branden Cote