This year, I marked 10 years as a resident of West Berkeley. I love my neighborhood. I love its diversity, its walkability, its natural and architectural beauty—and I love its sense of safety. My partner and I moved here as young adults and became parents here, and I love to walk through West Berkeley with my two sons, who are now two and five years old. One of our favorite places to go is Aquatic Park, which happens to be bordered by the semi-industrial streets whose lack of hourly parking limits makes them some of the primary spots in the city for people living in their vehicles.
Last spring, as we walked on Fourth Street past a number of RVs, I told my five-year-old that Berkeley’s elected leaders had decided that the RVs were a problem and had voted to make it illegal for them to park there overnight. (The ban has not gone into effect yet). He had the logical reaction: “Why?” What was clear to him would be clear to anyone who actually spent time in this part of the city: there is no problem with RVs There are no piles of trash outside of them. Their inhabitants don’t behave menacingly. The people who live in RVs and other vehicles in West Berkeley don’t disrupt daily life in our neighborhood; indeed, they’re part of life in our neighborhood and have been for years without major incident.
It strikes me as no coincidence that the City Councilwoman for my district, Cheryl Davila, was one of the few to vote against the overnight RV ban. As a resident of West Berkeley herself, she’s the member best situated to know that that people sleeping in RVs don’t represent some kind of scourge in our part of town.
I know that many of my housed neighbors are worried by the enormous homeless population in Berkeley, and I wouldn’t want to make light of those concerns. If you have someone sleeping a few feet from your home, be it in a vehicle, a tent, or just a sleeping bag, it’s natural to wonder if that person represents a risk to you or your family. There is clearly a crisis of homelessness impacting Berkeley, and while it is immeasurably worse for the people without a secure home, it has real consequences for everyone.
But it is precisely because the crisis is real that we can’t be fooled by false solutions. This is a regional crisis that needs regional solutions, and Berkeley’s government has a part to play along with our neighboring cities and suburbs. Mayor Jesse Arreguín has taken some positive steps in the direction of expanding shelters and other resources for the homeless population here. Yet he also continues to support this measure that punishes the vulnerable while helping no one.
I am tired of our city politicians telling us that taking away rights from homeless Berkeleyans will make the rest of us safer. I feel safe walking the streets of West Berkeley with my children, RVs and all. And I continue to hold out hope that Mayor Arreguín and the City Council won’t needlessly chase away our neighbors.
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