ALERT: Berekley, CA police cracking down on homeless FWD

Tom Boland (
Mon, 22 Jun 1998 15:23:51 -0700 (PDT)
FWD  San Francisco Chronicle - Monday, June 22, 1998 - Page A13

     Police cracking down on Telegraph Ave. denizens

     Charles Burress, Chronicle Staff Writer

The cultural clash over rebellious, sometimes homeless and often
punkish-looking youth hanging out on city sidewalks is rattling
Berkeley's Telegraph Avenue again with new confrontations emerging on
several fronts.

Police began showing up in force last week, making arrests and issuing
citations for a wide variety of offenses, including drinking in
public, skateboarding on the street and having an unregistered dog.

The public works department angered those who sit on mats and blankets
on the sidewalk with a new midday program of sidewalk spray-cleaning.

And merchants and residents fed up with what they see as aggressive
street punks who spread garbage and feces (human and canine) are
passing around a ballot petition to ban lying and sitting on the
sidewalk in commercial districts.

Tensions are running high, with daily face-to-face arguments between
street people and police, who have parked their large black- and-white
``Orca'' bus right at ground zero -- the intersection of Telegraph
Avenue and Haste Street.

``It feels like a war zone,'' said Sally Hindman, executive director
of Berkeley's Chaplaincy for the Homeless, which runs a service center
for youth two blocks from Telegraph. ``It reminds me a lot of El
Salvador. There are 20 police officers per block. Kids are coming in
our office crying. They're very scared.''

Hindman and other supporters of the youth say they frequently are
victims of home abuse or other problems that deserve compassion and
treatment, not police tickets and arrests.

But for residents like Marcia Poole, who lives one block from
Telegraph and who recently was spit at by a 15-year-old girl, the
police action is long overdue.

``We have a very hostile population of kids,'' she said. ``Their dogs
attack guide dogs, they spit on you, throw rocks through windows . . .
We have been left with businesses declining and people not wanting to
come to Berkeley because they are hassled on the street.''

Poole, the prime organizer behind the ballot petition, said the city
and social welfare agencies by and large have not helped the kids find
productive alternatives, but have merely attracted and ``coddled''
them with support that enables them to continue in a self-destructive
lifestyle that hurts the city and the youth themselves.

The increased police presence began June 15 as ``Operation Ave-
Watch,'' a 30-day trial effort to add six officers to the street,
seven days a week between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. It is being funded with
$80,000 in police overtime pay.

Operation Ave-Watch is part of a recently implemented
``multidepartment'' approach that also includes more sidewalk cleaning
and increased assistance for the street youth from city social
workers, said Weldon Rucker, acting director of public works.

And those efforts, in turn, are part of a larger continuing process
involving a City Council subcommittee that has come up with six
proposals for toilet-access and other services for those who make
Telegraph their place to hang out and sometimes sleep. The council is
due to vote on those proposals tomorrow night when it takes up the
city budget.

The problem is similar to that now facing the Haight-Ashbury
neighborhood in San Francisco and to what caused Palo Alto last year
to ban lying and sitting on the sidewalk.

Berkeley voters passed such a ban in 1994, Measure O, that also banned
panhandling. The portion pertaining to sidewalks was upheld by the
courts after a legal challenge but was rescinded by the current
liberal majority on the City Council.

The council member representing the district that includes Telegraph,
Kriss Worthington, said he supports both cleaner streets and more
services for the homeless and youth.

``I think the city needs to enforce laws on blocking the sidewalk and
to make sure that people who want to walk to school and work and shop
on Telegraph can feel safe and comfortable,'' said Worthington, a
member of the council majority.


ARCHIVES  <>  read posts to HPN
TO JOIN  <> or email Tom <>