Public Comment

RE: Proposals on Homelessness in the City of Berkeley

Peace and Justice Commission
Saturday April 11, 2015 - 03:46:00 PM

Honorable Mayor and Members of the City Council:

The Peace and Justice Commission advises the City Council on all matters relating to the City of Berkeley’s role in issues of peace and social justice (Berkeley Municipal Code (BMC) Chapter 3.68.070).

On March 17, 2015, the City Council referred to the City Manager a packet of proposed ordinances proposed by development interests, which would ban ten types of behavior typical of urban homelessness, including un-permitted cooking on the sidewalk, panhandling within ten feet of a parking pay station, and placing objects within three feet of a tree well.

These proposals are the latest step in an ill-considered, repressive policy against the marginalized homeless population. In 2012, the Council placed Measure S before the voters, a proposition that would have outlawed sitting on the sidewalks in commercial districts. After a hard-fought campaign, the measure was defeated by the electorate.

Such proposals, whatever their rhetoric, have the effect of criminalizing the poor. They do nothing to address the root causes of homelessness. Better ways can be found to confront the social problems of wealth and racial inequality, lack of affordable housing, and mental illness. 

Many authorities have spoken about the detrimental effects of such punitive legal measures. These proposals contradict the 2012 direction of the US Interagency Council on Homelessness, which called for an end to the criminalization of “acts of living.” This City Council itself approved a letter to the UN Human Rights Committee in October 2014, discussing similar laws passed in 2007, addressing the issue of whether they violate the ICCPR treaty. ICCPR Article 16 states, “Everyone shall have the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.” The Council wrote in 2014, "While the initiative does not explicitly criminalize the poor or homelessness, it does outlaw actions that are symptomatic of these conditions.” 

The Peace and Justice Commission reminds the Council that a Homeless Task Force has been meeting for the past two years to formulate recommendations and proposals for dealing with the complex issues of homelessness. The Task Force will present their considered suggestions to a special Council Workshop on June 23. 

The Peace and Justice Commission recommends that the Council of the City of Berkeley not consider formulating the ordinances proposed on March 17. Instead, please defer consideration of any related proposals until after the Homeless Task Force presents its proposals on June 23.