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It's Time To Help, Not Harass, the Homeless

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"Such a vision may become a reality in the not-so-distant future now that Berkeley City Council has given the green light to create a 24/7 commercial district in the Telegraph area south of the UC Berkeley campus."

(Editorial in The Daily Californian: April 5, 2013)

An editorial in the April 5, 2013 issue of UC Berkeley's The Daily Californian argues that Telegraph Avenue should be open twenty-four hours a day. For effect, the word "safety" is peppered throughout. The anonymous author doesn't say so outright, but he is undoubtedly writing in behalf of a few people who are frightened by the vision of "homeless" street kids camping out on the avenue. The vision has no basis in reality, and is in fact a self-interested lie.

What this is all about is a slick ploy by the Business Improvement District (BID), which plans to use zoning ordinances allegedly to help slumping businesses gain much needed revenue, but in reality to remove street kids from the public place. There is a guarded reference to this point in the editorial:

"Even with the council's approval, Telegraph merchants probably won't fully extend their hours until other changes transform the environment there."

There it is in black and white: "until other changes transform the environment there." Those "other changes" come at the expense of "other people," since they refer to the poor and homeless who live on Telegraph Avenue. However, those "other changes" are not going to "fix" anything, as even Roland Peterson suggests in his article "Sidewalks Plan Spurs Debate" in the April 5th Berkley Voice. He points out that it's not only "homeless" people that violate minor butt-hurt ordinances, but others as well. They include many housed people who demonstrate conclusively that housing is not necessarily a solution for bad behavior.

We Need Creative, Civilized Solutions, Not Unjustified Punishments.

Okay, so where does this leave us? As always, right back at the beginning. We get nowhere when we act out of fear or project that fear onto others for potential profit. We the taxpayers end up paying more on the back end, every single time: bad money after good money after bad money after good money after.... When will the madness cease? I guess, if you always attempt unjustified punitive measures as opposed to creative, civilized ones, you're going to have these problems. 

We can't continue to blow all that tax revenue on purposely misguided actions that don't work--that in fact end up by both violating civil rights and sending the afflicted down one dead-end alley after another and expecting them to figure things out for themselves. Instead, we need to allocate taxpayer money in the proper areas.

I'm sure some folks have been "successful" in rebuilding their lives with the help of remedial social programs, but what are the percentages? I would bet the success rate is low and that the programs serve mostly as revolving doors--and I'm giving 2:1 odds to anyone willing to bet me.  I know this, because I've seen it first-hand since I was the age of a lot of the kids on the Telegraph. They push you into these programs, and, meanwhile, someone is making a lot of money off the miseries of others while the recidivism rate soars and everyone pretends it's not. They call it "relapse." I call it "inevitable," given the circumstances of how life works and how human beings operate. And then there's that other part of human nature: the tendency of those in the "rehabilitation" business to see it as a source of "revenue."

As the cities go broke, private interests make off with all the loot. Sound familiar? Everyone has their hands in the pie. It's one huge Greed Festival, and if you're not part of it you''ll have your legs chopped off. If you're not part of the process, you're the enemy. But while private businesses are making a killing, the taxpayers are the Suckers. Sure, they'll agree that it's the "homeless" who are causing the problems. They are easy targets, because people are uncomfortable visualizing their own mess and inaction. They'll almost always see it as a better option to sweep problems under the rug and use fear as a weapon .

"The dim glow cast over the area at night makes students feel unsafe--increased visibility would go a long way toward creating an environment in which students feel comfortable in the middle of the night."

(Editorial in The Daily Californian, April 5, 2013)

My parents used to always say, "Nothing good ever happens after midnight." Anyone who has ever received a phone call after midnight knows that to be true. They seldom end up as anything nice; more often they involve bail money or funeral plans. 

On the Telegraph, the misery that leads to those calls only encourages the illicit use of drugs like Adderall and methamphetamine. When the city in turn plays on the fears of the people to push through illegal and unconstitutional statutes, they are met every single time with screaming and protesting , and lawsuits. That only slows down any possible amelioration of the problems and wastes more taxpayer money. It puts us right back to square one, again.

The Berkeley Police don't even want to deal with the problems. They have more pressing issues to handle, like giving people cigarette tickets in the "commercial district." That's terminology they love to throw around--as though the public space were some sort of "mall" or property they own and control. It gives them license to tell certain citizens they cannot sit or stay there, while ignoring others who have, at least currently, a better socioeconomic status. Not that these folks won't be in the same place soon, mind you. The other day my buddy Donnie, an employee of Papa John's on Shattuck Avenue, had to call the police because a mentally handicapped person was trying to steal two-liter sodas and disrupting things inside the store. The police told Donnie, "We'll send a car in "two to four hours'...."

"To that end, once storefronts actually begin to open the doors 24/7, local police will need to strengthen their presence throughout the night. Together with better lighting, this would hopefully address any student concerns about safety in the late hours."

(Editorial in The Daily Californian, April 5, 2013)

Then the author talks about making the mostly " commercial district " into some sort of "residential" neighborhood?
        "Still, businesses will not see the demand they need to take
        advantage if the 24/7 district until the Telegraph has a
        higher residential density."

Harassment of the Poor Is Still Harassment.

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I'm a homeless student, writer, and activist... currently panhandling my way through school (and life.).
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