Berkeley moves towards a consensus homeless plan

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City Council appears to be moving towards a consensus-based, public process to generate an action plan on homelessness. Photo: Emilie Raguso

After an acrimonious battle last year over Measure S, which sought to prohibit sitting on commercial sidewalks, Berkeley’s City Council pointed the way on Tuesday night to a more consensual approach to homelessness.

Councilman Jesse Arreguín’s Compassionate Sidewalks plan calls for a working group on homelessness to “conduct a series of focused workshops and discussions on a wide range of issues related to homelessness and to develop an action plan with policy, program, and funding recommendations around ending homelessness.” (Arreguín wrote about his proposal in a Berkeleyside op-ed on Monday.)

His proposal was to convene the working group following the scheduled work session of the City Council on homelessness on April 2. At the City Council meeting this week, the council unanimously agreed that Arreguín would propose a more detailed process which would be brought to a vote at the April 2 council meeting, following the work session.

In both public comment and council discussion, Arreguín’s plan was seen as a positive step in tackling a complex issue for Berkeley.

Jesse Arreguín: budget reflects "our priorities as a community"

Jesse Arreguín: “We’re committed to looking at this further”

“I’m confident that if we take a different approach, an approach where we concentrate on consensus building and avoid divisiveness, we can come up with a workable plan,” said Bob Offer-Westort, who was coordinator of the No on S campaign last year.

“I’m really looking forward to a process that really knocks down the walls of progressive versus conservative on the council and in our community,” said Sally Hyman Hindman, director of Youth Spirit Artworks.

Councilmember Linda Maio said it was important to recognize how much progress Berkeley had made in dealing with homelessness over the years.

“We were a small community who came together, to pull together as best we could. We get better all the time,” she said.  “I don’t want to paint this picture as though we have failed. This is the next step. I really think it’s way overdue.”

Council members Kriss Worthington and Laurie Capitelli, who were on opposite sides of the Measure S debate last year, both said it was important to move on from past battles and work in a non-divisive manner.

“I don’t consider those who opposed Measure S demons and I don’t consider myself a demon,” Capitelli said.

Arreguín agreed that he would work with Mayor Tom Bates to craft a proposal for the April 2 council meeting. By that time, city staff could provide some indication of the costs of an extended working group process.

“I get the sense from the entire council that we’re committed to looking at this issue further,” Arreguín said.

Op-ed: After Measure S failure, it’s time to act on homelessness [01.24.13]
Measure S: will it help or hurt the homeless? [10.31.12]

Berkeleyside publishes many articles every day. To see all our stories in chronological order, and read ones you may have missed, check out our All the News grid.

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  • shutter

    “Looking into it further”
    Translation: do nothing.

  • Antonius Block

    “conduct a series of focused workshops and discussions on a wide range of issues related to homelessness…” That ought to do it.

  • berkopinionator

    Homeless services should be provided by the State and should be geographically distributed equally throughout the State. What are Atherton and Beverly HIlls doing for the homeless?

  • PorcelinaGrout

    Re: “I’m really looking forward to a process that really knocks down the walls of progressive versus conservative on the council and in our community,” — Sally Hyman

    As a former resident of Alabama, I have to laugh when someone describes Berkeley citizens and council members as “conservative.” Bless your heart, Sally, I guess you’ve never had the chance to travel outside the Bay Area.

  • Guest

    Stop with the “pie in the sky” approach to city management, already!
    Focus. Earn your salary by working together to solve the city financial problems,
    stop the city council deficit spending!

    The altruistic citizens of Berkeley can help with the homeless.

  • Boalted

    “I’m curious what people think would change about our approach to homelessness if it were possible to accurately separate those actually in need of care from the so-called lifestyle homeless?” Two days ago I posted that question on the comment section following Jesse Arreguín’s Opinionator article.

    If you answer: Nothing should change. Resources and services should be offered as always, without regard for the recipient’s individual history or inclination to participate in their own recovery. – That is what divides us to day: Resentment over the abuse of our public commons by the life-style homeless. It’s what prevents our uniting to assist others in true need back into life.

    If you answer: Everything would change. Because we are a compassionate people who accept our responsibility towards others in real need. Then the next step is to create a process which assesses each applicant’s needs for assistance individually. Only then can we define a finite opportunity for Berkeley city resources to assist them in their return to society.

    Done correctly such a system would concentrate our resource where they’re needed without subsidizing anti-social behavior. And by ending our self-serve, scattered efforts we may find that there is already enough funding to accomplish our task.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Agreed completely. When used as loosely as that, words stop meaning what they used to mean. Same is true for those who call Tom Bates a “fascist.” He may be many things, but a fascist? No.

  • cassandra

    Sally’s program Youth Spirits accomplishes what exactly?

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Jesse’s first order of business is to find a way to collect input without letting a small group of activists and nut jobs dominate the discussion. Those of us who pay taxes in Berkeley but work long hours elsewhere do not have the luxury or, frankly, the interest in listening to the usual caterwauling.

    I do, however, expect to be able to walk in my neighborhood and not feel like I’m running a gantlet of drunks and punks who, if one recent poster is any indication, seem to think that we ought to buy them a clubhouse.

  • guest

    sounds like government speak for “spend money and do nothing”

  • guest

    why can’t the city council make some decisions for themselves? what is the point of electing them if they don’t make any decisions?

  • Bill N

    I’m sorry but this is a waste of time and money doing nothing. There will be no “middle ground” there will be no affordable “legal” solution and there will be change in the number of panhandlers, and homeless in Berkeley – whether it’s the chronic mental cases, substance abusers, “folks traveling through” looking for some cash, or end of the month folks. Berkeley alone cannot and will not solve any of this.

  • Guesto

    It helps make Berkeley a magnet for disaffected young transients, ensuring that the local activists and poverty pimps will always have jobs.

    It also keeps a style of mural painting alive that should have been allowed to die a natural death in the early eighties, if not sooner.

  • jth

    The use of irony to mock or convey contempt.

  • jth

    Sending them here.

  • Guest

    I’m afraid that one of the primary issues that is being ignored in this approach is the aggressive panhandling and domination of public space by people who have no intention of seeking out assistance – career panhandlers, and in many cases people who are only passing through. I want to emphasize that I am fully in support of reaching out to the homeless and making assistance available to them. But unless the city finds a way to curb the aggressive behavior of the few who make the entire homeless population look bad, the sense of edginess downtown and in the surrounding areas will remain.

    It’s not the general homeless population who create a sense of unease, at least not for me personally. It’s when I can’t go to an ATM, a laundromat, or walk in and out of a store without being approached by someone who insults me under their breath when I refuse to give them money. How do you deal with them without an aggressive response? Is that even possible?

    Panhandlers in Berkeley seem to feel a sense of entitlement I don’t see in other cities because they know they can intimidate people out of money and no one is doing anything to stop it – not the city, not the police (and yes, preferably not the police because they should have better things to do). In the meantime I’m afraid a lot of harmless people who really need help and would welcome it are being blamed for the behavior of an aggressive few. I think if we were to look into seriously dealing with that crowd, then we might get somewhere.

  • Arreguín agreed that he would work with Mayor Tom Bates to craft a proposal for the April 2 council meeting.

    I have 5 words that Arreguín & Mayor Bates should reference when developing a proposal that will redirect tax dollars in a city budget with a multimillion dollar deficit:

    1. Timeline
    2. With
    3. Defined
    4. Progress
    5. Mile-markers


    …Chris Escobar, 23, who left Miami five weeks ago after losing a job as a delivery driver for a sandwich shop.

    “This is not the Berkeley I’ve heard about my whole life,” said Mr. Escobar, who hitched a ride west with only a backpack, a yellow dog named Marley and a tiger-striped kitten on a leash. “This is not the Berkeley I came for.”

    And with Measure S defeated everyone can rest assured that Berkeley’s motto remains:

    Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore city or state.
    Send these, (particularly) the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door! (even though it’s been knocked off its hinges by a multimillion dollar deficit, liberal handouts, and a city council that can’t put away the checkbook)

  • AnthonySanchez

    Thank you -that’s an honestly helpful suggestion.

  • Chris in Berkeley

    Does this also include those living in RVs and cars? I definitely see that more in north Berkeley.

  • cassandra

    Community court, note the current Alameda County approach to community court does not meet the challenges or needs.

  • M

    Sounds to me like a lot of empty rhetoric that will accomplish nothing.
    Proposition S would have been a step towards limiting some of the worst street behavior. Mr. Arreguin says in his op-ed that it lost by a 52% majority, and he implies that it was a landslide. It lost in the precincts where there are many students who are here temporarily and won’t be around to deal with the consequences – most of them won’t stay here to raise their children, run businesses, or own property. It won in many precincts where there are mostly long-term residents. In my humble opinion, this shows that the long-term residents are fed up with the situation and want the city to take some real action rather than endless and repetiitous dialog.

  • berkopinionator

    I am aware of at least one drug-addicted, homeless, Aryan Nation, registered sex-offender felon who moved to San Francisco years ago, from far away, when he heard they were giving away free hotel rooms and food. He spent several years living in an SRO hotel in the Mission with free food and healthcare at public expense. There are homeless working mothers with kids from our area that should have priority for homeless services over out-of-state punky kids that enjoy our sidewalks.

  • agreed

  • The Sharkey

    With all the blatant lying that the “No On S” campaign engaged in (saying it would outlaw things like neighborhood lemonade stands and sitting on your own lawn), it’s actually amazing that the margin of the vote was so narrow.

  • The Sharkey

    Not only is he an out-of-town lifestyle homeless panhandler, he’s apparently also an anti-capitalist “anarcho-syndicalist” who is heavily involved in local occupy groups.
    Which is a fancy way of saying he’s one of those black bloc kids who smashed up storefronts and tried to take over public parks a few months back.

    Is this really the kind of person we want to attract here in Berkeley? Do we really want our resources going towards funding the freeloading lifestyles of baby anarchists who travel here from literally all the way across the country?

  • In other words a contributing member of our overly welcoming community. I’d laugh a lot more about the absurdity of this city if I weren’t paying property tax.

  • BrianY

    Thanks for the article. It’s Sally Hindman, not Hyman,

  • Markus

    sorry but there are much sound as well as this is time consuming process

  • Thanks. I’ve corrected it in the story.

  • i don’t think there is any one approach that works for everyone. but, just because we can’t do everything for everybody doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do anything for anyone either.
    my advice is not to reinvent the wheel, though. learn from programs/pieces of programs that are working for other cities. i heard good things about the tenderloin community court in SF, for example. also, when i used to live in LA, i remember lots of homeless hanging out in santa monica. it seems the ranks have thinned out in recent years. what happened? did SM pass an ordinance kicking them all out to skid row in LA? or was it something else?… i’m sure we are not the only ones struggling with these issues. we can learn from others i hope.
    another thought is to hold periodic one-stop shop fairs in people’s park where
    reps from ngos/social agencies come together and help people connect with services. just some thoughts… not claiming that i have the solution or anything.

  • so what do you propose? ’cause i sure as heck don’t like the status quo.

  • I don’t think it matters how S failed. It failed. It’s a fact. What next? ‘Cause I sure as heck don’t like the status quo. Jesse’s approach may not be the best, but the man is trying something and he’s asking for help. So if you have good ideas, please bring them forward.

  • guest123

    i sure as hell don’t want berkeley to look like the tenderloin.

    santa monica has a sit/lie law.

  • cassandra

    and Santa Monica has a community court to hold homeless accountable for problematic behavior.

  • Boalted

    1) Nearly half the city is pissed off by the anti-social behavior of the “homeless” which prevents the enjoyment of our public spaces.

    2) Nearly half the city feels it is necessary to do something more for for “down and outs” than stand the “homeless” up.

    The solution: Get rid of the useless construct “homeless” and instead consider these people as distinct individuals who are: A) “Down and out”, but really want to be “up and back in” society and willing to work to get there. Or B) Those would choose to drink and beg till they die on the street.

    To get aid from the tax payers of Berkeley, the individuals of Group A would have to vigorously participate in they’re recovery starting with providing complete personal history. Where it goes from there is the work of this new effort. But the must have part of this for COB is a case by case system with lots of follow up and follow through by those we’re helping/funding.

    Certainly those who choose to drink and beg till they die on the street should not have their rights infringed upon. And we will respect their right to be arrested for violations of law, scrupulously enforced in the public commons.

    No more mass feeding troughs or faceless city handouts. Let’s make this the “The Summer of Tough Love” in Berkeley.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    I’m sure you continue to monitor this topic. Is this the only suggestion you consider to be “honestly helpful” ? Boalted just posted a good one and while I know you’re not frantically reloading every 5m, I am curious to know what you think of some of the other ideas and feedback that have been expressed here.

  • Really?

    This Council item is the biggest request for a blank check cluster eff that I have ever seen come out of the City Council in my 20 years here. Nice. And tell that guy in the comments above to go back to Miami. Tell him to tell his peeps that Berkeley doesn’t want them here either.

  • Really?

    It’s funny that so many think that by rationally discussing this via these comments that the Downtown Councilmember might be swayed. You people are wasting your time. If you want there to be real change you will have to start packing the Council chambers (April 2?) like Jesse and Kriss will have the gutterpunks do. Calling all gutterpunks – We know you don’t have anything to do in the evenings so come on down to Council and make sure the people who want real community on our sidewalks don’t have their voices heard…YAY!!! for democracy.

  • OK. scratch that. SM example not good here since they have a sit/lie law. next….

  • 4Eenie

    Your advice? Are you advising as someone who has experience handling homeless matters? I’m not trying to be snarky, but when you say you have advice, I’m all ears if you are well-versed in the subject. Otherwise, not so much.

  • galaxy_pie

    As long as you allow people to live and aggressively panhandle on the street, they will. Simple as that. You don’t see this elsewhere because they don’t allow it elsewhere. I know it feels all warm and fuzzy to think of this as a poverty issue and that Berkeley is extending their compassionate hand to help, but that’s nonsense. They come here because they get receive harassment for their lifestyle choices and we have to deal with it; the drugs, the fighting, the blight, the aggressive panhandle… it’s a mess. Move them OUT! Give help to those who want it, institutionalize and medicate those who need it, and force the rest out of here!

  • The Sharkey

    If you want there to be real change you will have to start packing the
    Council chambers like Jesse and Kriss will have the
    gutterpunks do.

    Sad, but true.

  • The Sharkey

    I would say that Santa Monica is a good example, because what we need is some form of panhandling control or sit-lie law.

    It didn’t have to go to a public vote, you know. The only reason it did is that our City Council is spineless.
    In other communities, the City Council makes the decision themselves instead of wasting tens of thousands of dollars putting it on a ballot.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I think the council’s idea was that, if they passed the law themselves, it would end up being put on the ballot by referendum. They figured they could get it on the ballot sooner, and potentially put it in effect sooner, by putting it on the ballot themselves.

  • The Sharkey

    Perhaps. But had it been passed directly, the time between it being enacted and it being voted on could have been used to judge its efficacy.

    The council could have passed a ban that had a sunset clause of, say, 6 months in order to test out the idea before people voted on it.

  • AnthonySanchez

    1. Boalted has posted several things. Which one are you referring to?
    2. West Bezerkeley is less policy oriented and more process -most of my comments on this issue have been relegated to that. The orientation of our process is to have a community-derived content, so that may explain why I am not jumping into substantive issues.
    3. I’m sometimes on here a lot. And sometimes not a lot. But if you are requesting my personal opinion, I’d be happy to give it if I can.
    4. Truth is, I’m breaking my promise with Jesse that I’d stay off Bside commenting.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    1. the one in which s/he argues for measuring and responding to “the problem” by finding more useful categories than “homeless,” since that is unproductively vague.
    2. Fair enough, though I think the point Boalted makes about dividing the problem in to manageable sub-problems is (mostly) a process item, which is why I thought you’d be interested in that, assuming that you agree.
    3. Understood and appreciated.
    4. That’s unfortunate. We don’t always agree, but you obviously have a fine mind and are passionate about your beliefs without devolving into the screeds one sometimes finds here.

    And a bonus #5, which is roughly related to #4: I wish that Jesse himself would condescend to answer questions here. He’s written an Opionator piece but never engaged with commenters. I know he’s chimed in on rare occasion, but when the topic is very specifically about his initiative, a little direct interaction with the rabble would be most welcome.

    Some time back I had suggested to Lance that they do something like Reddit’s “ask me anything” columns. Maybe that’s a format Jesse would be willing to try?

  • Nope, no experience and not well-versed either. But it sounds like this initiative is calling for ideas from all in the community so I pitched in my 2 cents – mainly learn from what worked in other cities and not waste time reinventing the wheel here.

  • The Sharkey

    A moderated AMA might be good, but if I was a public official I would read these comments but not participate. Too much risk with not enough reward.