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The Pioneer

Berkeley homeless affected by new laws

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Berkeley homeless affected by new laws

Graphic by Tam Duong Jr.

Graphic by Tam Duong Jr.

Graphic by Tam Duong Jr.

Graphic by Tam Duong Jr.

Louis LaVenture,
News and Sports Editor

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Despite protests and a heavy backlash, the Berkeley City Council approved a new set of laws that will impact the homeless.

On Dec. 1, the city council voted 6-3 in favor of new laws that ban people from sleeping in planter beds, leaving belongings in trees and taking up more than two square feet of space on sidewalks. The new laws put stricter enforcement and punishments on public urination and defecation. It also includes a law that will not allow individuals to park a shopping cart during the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. on sidewalks or streets.

An activist group called the Freedom Sleepers — who aim to end criminalization of the homeless — teamed up with other protesters and homeless people to set up camp at the old city hall to protest the new laws originally proposed by Councilwoman Linda Maio. Maio said that the laws are being put in place to, “discourage obnoxious behavior… not penalize people with nowhere to go.”

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates supports the new laws proposed by Maio and said he is in favor of helping, not hurting the homeless. Part of the new ordinance includes providing up to 100 storage bins for homeless people to store their goods without punishment.

“Look, this city has always been compassionate toward the homeless,” Bates said. “Providing things like showers, storage bins and other services is a step in the right direction for the city.”

The storage bins will be given out on a first come first serve basis to those in need, but with over 800 homeless people in Berkeley, critics say it is just a public relations move by the city.

“What about the hundreds of people who don’t get a bin?” Freedom Sleeper protester Joshua Gaines commented. “What do they do with their stuff? They are trying to dehumanize these people and make them fit their entire life into a bin? Being homeless should not be a punishable offense, but that’s what they are trying to make it.”

Berkeley Councilman Jesse Arreguin voted against the new ordinances and said that the city should be focusing on increasing services for the homeless instead of citing them for having “too much stuff.” Maio said that the new laws will not go into effect until at least 50 of the 100 storage bins are available for use people to use.

In 2013, the city council voted unanimously in favor of building an emergency shelter for the homeless, but there is still no plan for construction of the facility over two years later.

The protesters who camped out at the old city hall nicknamed the encampment “Liberty City” and made their presence and disdain known for the new laws. On Friday, the city cleared out the encampment and arrested three people who refused to leave. According to the protest organizer Mike Zint, the camp drew some negative attention despite his efforts to implement a mandatory quiet hour, as well as a ban on alcohol and drugs. Berkeley city spokesman Matthai Chakko said that when officials arrived to clean up the camp they found drug paraphernalia and feces.

Chester Nash has been homeless since 2011. An East Bay native, originally from Oakland, his journey on the streets came after his mother passed and her house was sold.

“I used to live in Oakland, but it got way too dangerous,” Nash said. “Berkeley has a lot of homeless people in one area. I came to Berkeley in 2014 because it’s more of a community here. We look out for each other. I would hate to have to go back to Oakland. It got too dangerous, I almost died.”

Nash was stabbed in 2014 in Oakland by a man who was trying to steal his recyclables, which sparked his move to Berkeley.

“I was sleeping and he tried to take my cans,” Nash said. “I tried to fight him off but I couldn’t. Knives hurt.”

Nash had been living at the old city hall until Friday when it was cleared out by the city. He said he plans on trying to get a bin and living in People’s Park where he has been for nearly a year. Nash also said that being ticketed was not an issue for him because if they turn into warrants, he could be arrested, however will get shelter and free meals, something he purposely tries to do in the winter.

“I try to get locked up in the winter,” Nash said. “These new rules make it easier. In jail I get a warm place to sleep and free food. It’s like vacation.”

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