Berkeley’s homeless residents staged a protest march on Wednesday, October 23rd, starting at the Seabreeze encampment on University Ave and West Frontage road and ending at Berkeley City Hall. The purpose of the march was to bring attention to the cruelty of what I will call the “homeless shuffle,” the process by which agencies such as CalTrans, the Berkeley Police Department, and Amtrak take turns forcing people to move from corner to corner, and disposing of all their personal property in the process. Homeless residents took to the streets on the 23rd to raise awareness about this constant harassment and displacement and the harm that it causes.
The Homeless Shuffle goes something like this: on Mondays the Berkeley Police Department goes to all visible homeless individuals and encampments on city property and issues a 72 hour notice to vacate the premisses. On Wednesdays they return with city workers and a trash truck to write citations and or remove any and all belongs still on city owned land. On Fridays CalTrans goes to all the sites near the interstates such as overpasses, off ramps, bridges, and sites parallel to the freeway. They issue a notice to vacate the premises by Thursday of the following week, at which time any possessions still remaining on CalTrans property will be promptly disposed of. And then of course there’s the Amtrak Police that patrol daily for individuals living on Amtrak property, issuing their own 72 hour notices to vacate or once again, lose all of your possessions. This cycle plays out week after week.
I think it is important to note where this homeless shuffle has been taking place. Take the encampment under the I-80 underpass, for example, where some residents have moved back and forth across the same road as many as seven times. This encampment is between large steel mills, ware houses, train tracks, under bridges etc. These people do not live downtown or in residential areas, but on the outskirts of town. A location with no power, no food, no water, no toilets or shade, with the exception of a few tarps strung up for temporary relief from the sun. Unhoused people live in these areas in an effort to form a safe community for the homeless, where they can just be left alone. A place to fit in and get to know your neighbor, a place where you feel comfortable with friends that can relate to the type of pub- lic rejection, catastrophic loss, injury, and complete loss of worldly possessions that we, the homeless, have endured.
Where is the logic in kicking someone when they are down? The logic is very simple: move to Oakland or San Francisco, anywhere but here. It doesn’t matter where you go, just go away. This sort of behavior does not solve the homeless issues here in Berkeley, it just shifts the blame on a weekly basis.
This is the injustice that sparked the march on Wednesday. Unfortunately, the protest fell on deaf ears at Berkeley City Hall where only three city representatives—council-member Cheryl Davila, Peter Radu with Health, Housing and Community Services, and Public Information Officer Matthai Chakko—came out to address the crowd. Apparently the remainder of City Hall was conveniently on vacation or at an all day lunch. However the demonstration participants were not deterred, nor were they relieved of their anger or frustration. Instead, we want to send a message: enough is enough.
We will not continue to be shuffled around from one lo- cation to another, as if we are livestock not even worthy of a barn. We are demanding the right to be treated as human beings. We will continue to march with ever-growing numbers of homeless Berkeley citizens, protesting on the steps of Berkeley City Hall until we are recognized as American citizens worthy of basic human rights. We need real solutions to real problems, not more homeless shuffles.
Please contact your City Council Member and Mayor Jesse Arreguín to demand human rights for Berkeley’s homeless human beings.
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.