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Press Release: ACLU Urges Berkeley City Council to Reject Anti-Homeless Laws

Friday June 05, 2015 - 11:10:00 AM

Today, the ACLU of Northern California urged the Berkeley City Council and Mayor Tom Bates to reject a slate of anti-homeless laws proposed in March. In a letter signed by Senior Counsel Alan Schlosser, they wrote, “These ordinances are a step backwards.” 

The proposed laws criminalize a host of inoccuous behaviors, including setting property down within three feet of a tree well, or panhandling within ten feet of a parking pay station. Schlosser wrote, “The fact is that these laws will be disproportionately enforced against the poor, the young and the homeless… They will be enforced with the goal of moving ‘undesirable’ people away from downtown shopping areas…” Getting people out of public sight is, “not a constitutionally permissible reason to use the police power of the state…” 

The letter made further reference to projected involvement of the Downtown Berkeley Association’s Ambassador program: “The risk of unconstitutional enforcement is heightened where private security ‘ambassadors’ patrol public streets and are tasked with enforcing such laws…” The DBA’s Ambassadors made headlines in March when one of them was caught on video beating two homeless men. In the past, the DBA’s CEO John Caner has said that he would like to see the Ambassadors have a role in enforcing anti-homeless laws. 

The ACLU reminded City Council that in 2012, “Berkeley voters rejected a proposal to criminalize homelessness and push homeless people out of the downtown areas when a majority disapproved a propsal to criminalize sitting or lying on public sidewalks (Measure S).” 

More than fifty congregations of numerous faiths have signed onto a letter opposing the anti-homeless laws. The Berkeley Food and Housing Project, BOSS, YEAH!, Youth Spirit Artworks, the Homeless Commission, and the Homeless Taskforce have all taken positions against the proposal. Streets Are for Everyone volunteer Bob Offer-Westort said, “The overwhelming moral voice of Berkeley—from the faith community to the ACLU—has taken the right stand. As this support grows, we look forward to making this voice heard at City Council.”