Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Berkeley's new cause: Make homeless behave

After months of hand-wringing, the Berkeley City Council in November passed a law to hire monitors to patrol city streets and parks and report inappropriate behavior by the homeless and others to police and social service agencies.
The plan makes it easier for police to enforce a law against camping in public places. It bans lying down on commercial streets during the day and bars smoking on sidewalks on main commercial corridors.
It was Berkeley's reputation for tolerance and generous social services that helped attract so many homeless. One study estimated that 40% of Alameda County's chronically homeless reside in Berkeley even though the city represents only 7% of the county's population.
In recent years the city's openness to the unorthodox has given way to discomfort over aggressive panhandling and public urination and defecation.
Frustrated by homeless encampments, Berkeley residents and merchants recently helped reject a plan to build a public plaza near what is known as the Gourmet Ghetto in North Berkeley, home of Alice Waters' Chez Panisse restaurant. Residents and merchants feared that the homeless would just take over.
Mayor Bates said Berkeley residents are no different than residents of other cities with significant homeless populations and they do not want to see poverty. But, he said, the city was not shunning the disadvantaged.
Maura Dolan, Berkeley's new cause: Make homeless behave, Los Angeles Times (Nov. 29, 2007) available at,,0,1339539.story.

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