Criminalizing homelessness is not a Berkeley value, nor is turning away those who have nowhere else to go. Sadly, unless more communities come to embrace our values, Berkeley will continue to shoulder a disproportionate share of the regional and national homelessness crisis. Unable to end homelessness on our own, how can Berkeley balance being a compassionate host with “house rules” that keep our city safe and livable?
My support for Measure S, the Berkeley Civil Sidewalks ordinance, was not an easy decision for me. I came to it after many hours of conversation with people from all parts of the community, and a careful reading of the ordinance to see what it actually does and doesn’t do.
“Helps People. Saves Jobs.” This is the campaign slogan in favor of Measure S, the “Civil Sidewalks” ordinance on Berkeley’s ballot next Tuesday. Proponents argue that by banning sitting in commercial areas during business hours, Measure S will increase economic activity and help homeless people access social services. Like anyone who lives in Berkeley, we have grappled with issues related to homeless people on the sidewalks. A law that would help people get the services they need and help the economy sounded good to us.
In the early 1990s, Pacific Avenue merchants were suffering in Santa Cruz. We had encampments of youth sitting on our sidewalks in front of businesses and in our public spaces, often with pit bulls and belongings. They engaged in unwelcoming aggressive panhandling and rowdy behavior, frequently fueled by drugs and alcohol. Many Santa Cruzans—particularly seniors and parents with children—felt uncomfortable in our Downtown, and so they stayed away, or would make their visits short, because they did not want to have to walk the gauntlet of groups sitting on sidewalks. Tax revenue, tourism, and the public areas suffered accordingly. It was time for a change.
Like most people I wear several hats. In my case that includes Telegraph Avenue small business owner, Berkeley resident, local shopper, member of the Telegraph Business Improvement District (TBID), and commissioner on the Berkeley Homeless Commission. The different roles can have different biases. However I feel confident endorsing Measure S from all of these perspectives.