January 3, 2013
Berkeleyside ponders whether we're bashing homeless folks hard enough
As though they actually care, Berkeleyside has invited its always opinionated commentariate to weigh in on the remarkable question: Has it gotten harder to be homeless in Berkeley, a subject about which the typical Berkeleyside reader is surely expert.
To get the customarily productive discussion started, cub reporter Emilie Raguso has seeded the ground with a few quotes from non-homeless people who have absolutely no insight into the question posed.
The ball got rolling when an anonymous reader innocently asked Berkeleyside to chase down a rumor from the street.
"Since the no-sit [ballot] measure failed, the city has begun new, more aggressive treatment of the homeless. My homeless neighbor, [name redacted], has been told he could sleep in the doorway of a movie theater but last night, a cop rousted him from his dry, out-of-the-rain perch in the theater's doorway. The cop said the theater could face stiff fines for giving [name redacted] permission to sleep in their doorway on a rainy night."
The reader continued: "Is this really who we want to be as a city?"
Now that's a fair question and probably important to those who might care about justice and such. The people have a right to know: Has some sort of quiet, departmental backlash from the failure of an anti-homeless ballot measure led to a retributive posture by Berkeley's police force? Are the powers that be, thwarted at the polls, taking out their frustration on the most vulnerable and down-and-out among us? How can we possibly find out?
Berkeleyside settles the question to their own satisfaction with a simple quote from the accused:
According to police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Coats, the Berkeley Police Department has not altered its general approach to the enforcement of violations associated with homeless residents.
Well, there you have it. The general approach of the police towards the poorest of the poors remains not altered. Are the police stepping up the harassment of people living on the street since measure S failed? The answer is a resounding NOT EXACTLY, SORTA! (according to police).
Thank goodness. If you are worried the police are doing something wrong, you can take comfort because BS asked them and the cops denied everything. Case solved.
Ragusso then hands the remainder of the piece over to Douglas Smith, of the Berkeley Public Library, to give an impassioned defense of new library rules prohibiting bringing in large unwieldy items such as shopping bags full of everything you own, bedrolls, and so forth.
"Our mission is to say 'yes' as much as possible, but we do have to make sure people follow the rules," he said. "Part of our mission is to help create a space in the community where people want to come, where it can be a place for silent study, meeting with friends, using collections, using computers and getting information from librarians."
Which, of course it is. The struggles of public libraries to serve everyone, including the homeless, are legend. The problems resulting when smelly, overly-laden, sometimes ill-behaved homeless people camp out or pass out in libraries are decades old. When Smith says the library's mission is "to say 'yes' as much as possible" his management-school rhetoric might cause some snickers but in substance he is joining a long and proud tradition of fiercely thoughtful and egalitarian public library tradition.
Whether or not the library's practice in enforcing its rules lives up to those ideals is an interesting question. Berkeleyside settles it simply and directly, once again, by asking the accused:
Smith said he understood that the new rules would be a challenge for some patrons, but that they were necessary for the facility to work as a shared resource.
So it's resolved. If anyone wants to know if the library is unjustly harassing homeless people they can sit down and please shut up because Berkeleyside has investigated by asking the library. Whatever is going on, experts say, is simply necessary. Case closed.
The customary Berkeleyside comment clique seems to have arrived at a rough consensus that whatever harassment of the homeless might be going on, it is evidently not nearly enough to do the job.
Remarkably, Berkeleyside and its community of commenters managed to answer its own question about how the homeless are being treated by consulting not a single homeless person or even any advocate for the homeless who might know a few facts on the ground.
I hear that next month BS will add a new investigative feature in which they publish the school lunch menus for the coming week. The data will be supplied by the district but BS will cut and paste like champs.
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