Yukon Hannibal speaks into the microphone Tuesday, April 24th, 2001, on the Berkeley City Hall steps before the Council meeting. Carol Denney, "Mama D" and a crowd of around 100 homeless people and advocates wait for their opportunity to speak.
The crowd was victorious in getting a bare majority of the Berkeley City Council to support District 7 Council representative Kriss Worthington's proposal to de-prioritize 647j, the trespass charge used to arrest people who have no where else to go. Berkeley, like many towns and cities, has hundreds fewer shelter beds than it needs.
Berkeley worries more that it might become "attractive" to homeless and transient people by offering shelter and services than it worries about the ones who end up dying on the streets. It happens more in San Francisco than in Berkeley, but a homeless woman was found dead on the southside of campus in 2000, wrapped in a sleeping bag on a particularly cold night right in front of an empty house...a "landmark" house too historic to house people. I mean no disrespect to landmarks when I say that. It's just worth remarking on.
Anyone who has a moment should thank Councilmember Kriss Worthington (510) 981-7170 for taking the time to prepare the proposal and help make it happen. He'll get no political capital out of his efforts; anyone who looks soft on the homeless (practically synonymous with crime these days) loses at the polls.
But don't ever depend on politicians to honestly give a damn. Politicians are usually worth only the pressure you put on them, and the pressure from merchants, developers, and polluters never lets up. Berkeley needs a public campground, at least three times as many shelter beds, and to learn that "affordable housing" shouldn't be aimed only at the $30,000 a year set.*
*"Affordable housing" is technically defined as 50% (sometimes even 80%) of the Area Median Income, or AMI, which is $30,000 a year. The $30,000 a year group is not sleeping under bushes and overpasses.