Public Comment

Solving Homelessness in Berkeley

Thomas Lord
Friday July 17, 2015 - 01:58:00 PM

Dear Berkeley,

There's a contradiction you have to come to grips with.

On the one hand, we are a free country (well...let's pretend, at least). We exist in a global market. People are free to travel, associate, and express themselves. People are free to participate in the market.

At least, these are our ideals.

Today we see a sort of lumpenproletariat, often sitting on the sidewalks. Many of them occupy more than two square feet, with their stuff. Many of them might remain in a spot for more than a few minutes. or more than an hour. 

Rightly or wrongly this is the same lumpenproletariat we blame, as a class, collectively and individually, for every whiff of urine, every bit of feces, every unkind word, every fear of dogs, every profane sign, every drinks-with-friends uncomfortably confronted with the state of the actual real world 

Where do they come from? This category of people so much in contention? 

This lumpenproletariat, whom some of you so dislike are as much at liberty as everyone else and it is --- even before Berkeley spends a single dime, socially -- it is natural for them to congregate in urban cores. 

Berkeley is blessed with a downtown BART station, comparatively good bus access, and lot of people walking around with spare change in their pockets. Of course unhoused people gravitate here. 

There is a concept going around that there is some "fair proportionate share" of unhoused people for Berkeley and that Berkeley has "more than its share". Hand in hand with this notion comes the idea that unhoused people are chattle, to be allocated according to regional land use policies runs counter to the basic premises of liberty and market freedom. Someone might propose: "Why can't we ship them to Detroit?", for example. 

Well here is the contradiction, Berkeley: 

Berkeley can only spend what it raises in Berkeley or through perpetually insufficient grants. We can not obtain enough fiscal transfers in to help with the situation owing to the legal structures of the region and state. 

At the same time, we can not transfer people out, at least not without sacrificing the principles of liberty upon which the nation and state are supposedly founded. We shall not become a community that herds the undesirable onto mass transit and sends them off concentrate elsewhere. 

Are we between a rock and hard place? What is to be done in the face of that contradiction? 

To me this says very clearly that we ought to be spending to reduce the conflicts in commercial districts through affordances. The unhoused have been around for decades and will remain. How can we ease the tensions? 

We need to bite the bullet and solve issues like the need for public bathrooms that don't suck, and even minimal storage for travelers. 

We need some way to address the question of where people can safely sleep when shelters are inadequate to the need. 

Such steps could go a long way to easing tensions. 

The homeless issue has been relentless for as long as most people's living memory. 

For decades we have a dysfunctional process whereby certain business interests want "those people" gone and service providers want to "end homelessness". 

Both sides are wrong. 

Start by building bathrooms.