From Telegraph Avenue to Shattuck Avenue, from the 1960s to present day, the homeless population of Berkeley has weaved itself in the ethos of this city. No postcard image of Berkeley is complete without this group, whose presence has become familiar to local residents. No story of Berkeley is complete without the story of the homeless.
But the homeless lifestyle in Berkeley has been a long-contested issue, raising questions about the city’s safety and cleanliness. Recently, there have been multiple proposals to address these issues as well as others specific to the homeless population. In the November 2012 election, voters defeated a controversial ballot measure that would have prohibited sitting on sidewalks in Berkeley’s commercial districts during certain hours of the night, with limited exceptions. The measure’s defeat was a symbolic acceptance of Berkeley’s homeless population and an acknowledgment of a group that makes Berkeley so unique. But it also raised concerns about the city’s services for the homeless and failed to provide a solution that would end homelessness. In January, the city introduced a plan to address issues of homelessness through a community-based group and a City Council subcommittee.
As students, we, like some of Berkeley’s homeless, are a transient population of the city. We, like some of Berkeley’s homeless, come for a particular reason and leave after some time. Drawing on this similarity, we sought to understand the experiences of the population — not just through examinations of the causes of homelessness and the state of services for that population but also through the experiences of some who were recently or are currently homeless in Berkeley.
— Seung Y. Lee and Amruta Trivedi