Press Release: Rally and March Planned to Protest Effort to Pass New Anti-Homeless Laws in Berkeley

Osha Neumann
Thursday March 12, 2015 - 06:29:00 PM

The Streets Are for Everyone Coalition (SAFE), is calling for an emergency march and rally on March 17 to protest efforts to get the Berkeley City Council to pass new laws targeting homeless people on the streets of the city.

The protest will precede a meeting of the Council at which it will consider a proposal by Councilmember Linda Maio for a raft of new ordinances, which would criminalize such innocuous activities as “lying on planter walls” and “deployment” of bedding on sidewalks and plazas during the day.

“Taken together with existing laws, these ordinances would essentially make it illegal for people who are homeless to have a presence on our streets and sidewalks,” said Osha Neumann an attorney with the East Bay Community Law Center. He has represented many homeless people who have received citations for, he says, “activities they engage in as part of their effort to survive.” 

Professor Jeff Selbin is the director of Berkeley Law’s Policy Advocacy Clinic, which recently published a study about the growing enactment and enforcement of anti-homeless laws in California. He commented: “The evidence from around the state and country is quite clear: criminalizing people who are homeless doesn’t solve any of the underlying causes or conditions of homelessness; in fact, it only makes them worse. It would be inhumane, ineffective and expensive for Berkeley to double down on punitive laws that will only hurt our most vulnerable residents.” 

Patricia Wall, Executive Director of the Homeless Action Center, expressed outrage that it was again necessary to fight for the rights of people who are homeless in the town with a supposed commitment to civil liberties. “Just under 2 ½ years ago,” she said, “Berkeley voters defeated Measure S, which would have criminalized sitting on the sidewalk. The same real estate interests that brought us that proposal are back again. And once again we need to show them that they don’t own this town, nor, hopefully, its politicians.” 

Bob Offer-Westort of the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness and former head of the “No on S. Campaign,” was astounded when he learned of Maio’s proposals. “Berkeley’s continuing failure to pay any heed to reason, research, or fellow feeling when developing homeless policy is mind-numbing. This city has a homeless commission, a homeless task force, and one of the best schools of social work in California. But our legislators can’t be bothered to lend an ear to either homeless people themselves, service providers, or policy experts, but legislation seems to be driven by a relentless cycle of panic and whim.” 

The march will begin at 5 PM on the corner of Telegraph Ave. and Haste Street and proceed to the steps of Old City Hall at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, for a rally at 6 PM. 

Streets Are For Everyone Coalition (SAFE) : safecoalitionberkeley@gmail.com