ECLECTIC RANT: Berkeley's Violent Raids on Tent Communities Illegal

Ralph E. Stone
Friday November 25, 2016 - 12:12:00 PM

The Berkeley police have conducted raids on homeless camps as members of the homeless community continue to protest the Hub — the city’s homeless services system — for its alleged inefficiency in providing homeless Berkeley citizens with housing and other services. 

It is illegal to criminalize someone's status rather than their conduct, and therefore enforcing no-camping laws when homeless people don't have viable alternatives is criminalizing their state in life. A shelter is a basic human right and efforts to remove the homeless self-help shelters -- including tents -- are likely to run afoul of the law.  

Earlier this year, an Oakland federal district court judge, in Cobine v. City of Eureka, prohibited the city of Eureka from evicting eleven homeless unless the city provided them with adequate shelter and assurances that their possessions would be stored and safeguarded. The Court found that the eviction of these eleven homeless violated the 4th, 8th, and 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

While this case applies only to these eleven plaintiffs, the Court's reasoning is sound. And remember this district court is in the Ninth Circuit, which covers Berkeley. This places the constitutionality of Berkeley's anti-homeless program in doubt. 

That does not mean, of course, that Berkeley cannot enact restrictions on homeless encampments to maintain hygiene, safety, and lawful conditions. As homeless encampments are here to stay at least for the foreseeable future, instead of violent raids on such encampments, Berkeley should provide portable toilets, trash bins, trash, trash removal, other amenities to make the encampments more livable, and enforce laws preventing blocking of streets, sidewalks, and entrances to businesses.  

Whether we like it or not, homeless encampments are now part of the urban environment.