In April, the City of Berkeley voted to enforce a new law that limits the amount of space your personal be- longings can take up on the sidewalk. The new regulations state that if your personal property takes up more than 9 square feet, the city can take it away, and you could be subject to a citation.
I walked the streets and talked with many of Berkeley’s longtime homeless residents to get a sense of the new regulation’s impact on the homeless community,.
Contrary to what people may believe, many of my fellow homeless residents agree that the sidewalks of downtown Berkeley are no place for tents and shopping carts full of personal items. I agree that this regulation may make the downtown sidewalks more accessible. However, I do not understand why it is also being applied to people living in the industrial areas of Berkeley, such as Second and Cedar streets.
When people are evicted from the downtown streets, they often move
to this more industrial part of town in hopes of being left alone. These areas have few residential homes and many large commercial business, lumber yards, recycling centers, and steel mills. They have no community meals, public restrooms, and nowhere shady to get out of the hot sun. To add insult to injury, the homeless people who live in this area report that every Mon- day the Berkeley Police Department comes through handing out notices and citations to those who exceed the 3×3 limit.
The notice allows 72 hours for people to move, or size down their belongings to fit within a 3×3 footprint. If the situation does not change, the Berkeley Police come back with Department of Public Works employees to bring the excess items to storage, or throw them in a trash compactor.
According to Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, any items removed by Public Works or Parks staff are taken to the City’s Corporation Yard, at 1326 Addison Street. They are supposed to be stored there for 14 days, or longer if they have a value over $100. The ordinance requires that items are tagged and photographed before they are taken away by the city.
Patricia Moore has lost countless belongings though this process. Patricia, known as “Mama Bear,” is 62 years old and confined to a wheel- chair. She told me that every week, she packs up all of her possessions and starts the moving process from one place to another.
The 3×3 ordinance traps people like Mama Bear in an ugly cycle. One week, you might move to the Amtrak train tracks. However, Amtrak has their own police that patrol the area and soon will issue a 72-hour notice to vacate.
Timothy Busby is a homeless writer who lives in Berkeley. He writes from his past five years of experiences while living on the streets from New Orleans to Berkeley, and many cities in between.