a bird and a bottle


Berkeley’s Solution to Increased Homelessness? Arrest ’em all.
May 20, 2007, 10:31 am
Filed under: civil rights, criminal justice, drug war, law, news

Sorry for the extended absence, kids. Between the beginning of work and my partner’s return from his year in Germany, it’s been a busy few days…

…but the bizarre news just keeps on comin’. The San Francisco Chronicle reported Wednesday (via TalkLeft) that Berkeley, that bastion of progressiveness, is struggling under the weight of its homeless problem. The city’s proposed solution? Ban smoking on city streets and then just arrest the homeless for smoking. Because they’re the most likely smokers, of course, and throwing them in jail will get them off the streets. The Chron has more:

As Mayor Tom Bates sees it, the alcoholics, meth addicts and the like who make up a good portion of the homeless population on Shattuck Avenue downtown and Telegraph Avenue on the south side of the UC Berkeley campus “almost always smoke.” And because smoking bans are the hot ticket these days for California cities, why not meld the two as part of a “comprehensive package” for dealing with the street problem that Bates says “has gone over the top”?

In this case, vagrants could be cited for taking a drag on the town’s main drags.

The program will be paid for by raising parking fees by fifty cents per hour around the city.

There are so many things wrong with this program that it’s hard to know where to begin. First, at least in NY, there are lots of people, homeless and homed, who smoke on city streets. Is the ordinance only going to be enforced against the homeless (which would be illegal selective prosecution)? And since when is the best way to reach out to the homeless to punish the behaviors that may have contributed to their predicament in the first place? While the mayor may be correct that many of the Berkeley homeless are meth users or are addicted to alcohol, fining or incarcerating them based on those addictions (and the addiction to nicotine) neither helps solve the level of homelessness nor addresses the cause of homelessness. If the mayor — and the progressive people of Berkeley — are really concerned about decreasing homelessness around their city, maybe they should consider providing support systems for homeless people, including drug treatment, mental health services, and — gasp! — help securing shelter. Laws like the Berkeley law make it even more difficult for the homeless to get off the streets: by ensuring criminal records and preventing access to social services, the city makes it harder for people to obtain and keep jobs.

At least there is one voice of reason in Berkeley. Kriss Worthington, a city Councilman who proposed a law in 2001 that would have prevented cops for ticketing people for sleeping on sidewalks (the law failed of course), recognized that the proposed law would accomplish little:

“My interest is in making things better for the homeless and business,” Worthington said. “And none of these things — a bunch of new laws — look like they will do.

You know what I think is bad or business? Having restaurants tell people they can’t step outside to smoke because they might be mistaken for a homeless person and arrested. Sheesh.

(also at Feministe).

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3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Leave it to American authorities to substitute prisons for shelters.

Comment by Alon Levy

does seem in keeping with the American spirit, doesn’t it? In fairness, people on Feministe have commented that Berkeley has tried to provide services. I’m not satisfied though…

Comment by bean

i hate the homeless thay rape thay are there for a reson and thats karma is karma fair yes you do somthing bad and look you go there and the bad thigs there doind to them selfs there hurting them selfs by puting drugs into there systems woman walk down the street underage girls get remarks from them thats no good thing it make you feel unsafe
thay need to get lost and the usa has to stop sending them out here keep your problems out there

Comment by juston




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