Homeless People in the Community

Parent Q&A

  • Harassing person--does anyone do anything?

    (7 replies)

    There's been a person who appears to be homeless hanging out on Euclid Ave for several years. He likes to camp nearby and walks near our house. The problem is that he yells and swears at us. We've always crossed the street to avoid him, but he does hang out in front of small restaurants. We'd even change our plans to avoid him. Recently, I was going for an evening walk and had to go in the same direction as him to get home. I was on the opposite side of the street and started running--hoping he'd think I was just a runner, but he started running after me. Yelling insults. Of course I couldn't go home, so I turned on a side street and said I'd call the police because he was harassing me. It's always just verbal--muttering loud insults, etc. I'm sick of it. Does anyone call Berkeley police about verbal harassment from homeless people? Is it a city, so you're suppose to live with it? I'd feel foolish calling, but then I'm so tired of feeling stressed everytime I see him. Thanks!

    This does sound really stressful, but this person is clearly mentally ill.  Depending on the BPD's relationship with him, it might also put him in danger to call them to intervene.  They might have some useful information on who else you could call, though.  Perhaps a homeless shelter or mental health intervention?

    Hi,

    I’m sure it’s stressful and even scary at times. While I don’t know the person you wrote about, it sounds like he has serious mental health issues and has limited control over his behavior or even his perception of reality. Although his insults are upsetting, they are most certainly not personal. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of good options for people with serious mental health problems in our society, which is why he’s on the street and probably without treatment, and why you and your neighbors must deal with the fear and frustration generated by his insults.  I’m not trying to minimize your experience, but it might be easier to tolerate if you think of him as someone our healthcare system (and likely other societal institutions) has failed. To see him as someone who is struggling and whose verbal aggression is not directed at you but at something that exists only in his altered perception.  I know that is easier said than done, because the verbal aggression can be really upsetting, but it may allow you to weather it more easily. Take care.

    The city of Berkeley has a Mobile Crisis Team that will come out and do wellness checks on individuals to connect them to services and medical care. They won’t respond immediately, but if this is a person who has regular places where they hang out they may be able to go check in. Better to call them than the police if you’re not in immediate danger. https://www.cityofberkeley.info/Health_Human_Services/Mental_Health/Mobile_Crisis_Team_(MCT).aspx

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Questions

Homeless Encampment at the Downtown Berkeley Post Office - Health Concerns

March 2016

I realize that this is a sensitive issue---although as a medical professional it seems pretty clear to me.

Let me throw this question out there. Why has Berkeley allowed a man to build a dwelling on Federal property (a United States Post Office) across from the YMCA in downtown Berkeley? Now, other homeless people have pitched tents, and the encampment is growing. As a health professional, I can tell you this encampment is a hazard, and in a direct line to families with children who enter the Y.

This encampment has debris and unsanitary conditions, a man who verbally threatens young girls, is in ill health, it constitutes usurpation of tax-payer property and generates behavior that disrupts and prevents people from accessing a public facility.

As far as I can see, this is not an issue of politics or social justice. It is a health and general welfare issue, and the encampment needs to be dismantled. How can Berkeley be persuaded to do what is in the best interest of the health of its citizens? Who should be contacted? Am I the only one concerned about this? Thank you.

Health Concerned


The City can't do anything, because the Post Office is Federal property. Write:
Megan Brennan
USPS Postmaster General
475 L’Enfant Plaza SW
Washington, D.C. 20260

Complain to her, and also e-mail your complaint to your City Council rep, to Councilman Jesse Arreguin (it's in his district) and to Mayor Bates. E-mail Congresswoman Barbara Lee as well if you feel like it. It is their job to advocate for Berkeley citizens, whether in favor of public health and welfare or adequate shelters and decent public toilets (preferably all of them).

Due Diligence


Replying to ''Health Concerned'' about the encampment at the PO: I am a member of the Berkeley Y and also have been wondering why this has been allowed. This has nothing to do with the proposed sale of the PO building (which I oppose).

Having an encampment full of drugs, filth, and garbage is an unsavory environment for the children who use the Y, as well as for the Berkeley High students. I have written to the City Council to urge the city to remove it, and recommend that anyone who agrees do the same.

Tired of encampments in downtown Berkeley


I agree with you. It continually amazes me that that encampment is allowed to stay on the steps of our post office. Why Is it allowed to stay? What purpose does it serve our community? How does the presence of those people living in tents help guide the decision of whether the post office sells that post office building or not? Are other towns with post offices chosen for sale allowing homeless people to live on their steps? Are the people who have now been there for what, a year, better off because our town has let them stay? Are they happier? Healthier? More centered? Has it fulfilled them?

Have we, as the residents of this town been asked if this is what we want? I DO have an answer to that. No. It is all incomprehensible to me.

Put it to a vote


Yes, I agree with you that this is a sensitive issue. That is why I have to question your statement that you ''can tell the encampment is a hazard, and in a direct line to families with children who enter the Y''. I am also a ''health professional'' and don't like to think you might be misusing this title to instill fear in people. While the people who are living outside, without shelter, without enough food, clean water, toilets, etc. are at very high risk of illness and even death, those of us who are walking by are not! If you don't share bodily fluids, don't spend extended periods in close contact where you could contract an airborne disease, don't share food, bedding, etc. I am not sure what health concerns you have vis a vis homeless encampments.

As a parent and a grandparent I know that children seeing apparently homeless people, and being disturbed by it, is difficult for many of us to know how to handle. Undoubtedly we all would prefer a world where our children/grandchildren did not see these things because homelessness, poverty, mental illness did not exist. But until that day, I believe that what we need to do is use these unfortunate circumstances to teach compassion and empathy.

I question the value of attempting to spread fear about our, or our children's health, because of homelessness in Berkeley. Lori


First, you are correct that this is a massive public health disaster and that this is no way for anyone to live. Second, you should take a look at the news headlines and social media surrounding the encampment along Division Street in San Francisco. The local residents complained, reasonably, that the homeless were stealing bicycles, holding onto garbage, crapping in the street, etc. A woman who owns a gym in the neighborhood pointed out on the radio that the homeless would walk in and want to use the restroom. She asked the general public to be sympathetic to her wish that the encampment be moved to homeless shelters- some of these people are scary and you wouldn't let them in your home.

But when you bring this up with the Mayor, and at City meetings, expect to be called bad names (as Supervisor Scott Wiener) has been, when you say that they should be in a shelter set up by the city (for instance, Pier 80 in SF).

You are right but expect to step into a hornet's nest when you start acting on this. Messy Issue, Pun Intended.


Helping a homeless man with cancer

March 2014

I recently ran into a man who grew up around the corner from me in Berkeley and attended the same alternative highschool. He was raised by his grandma who passed away when we were young and then I pretty much lost track of him. Over the years (we are now in our late forties) he would pass through the neighborhood (where I still live) to say hello. He never asked for anything but a bit of normal conversation with folks who knew him when he was young but I did get the sense that he was struggling and sort of off kilter. I saw him last night and he revealed that he has lung cancer and is sleeping in the bushes of local parks. Again he did not ask for anything, but when I asked about family he said ''gone'' when I asked if he was receiving support from social services etc.. he shook his head as if I were a being naive. I asked how to locate him if I thought of a way to help, and he just sort of shrugged. It was a brief conversation as I was taken by surprise and in the middle of a minor family crisis. I really can't say that I know him now or what other problems he may have and I currently have negative financial (or emotional) resources of my own to offer so I expressed as much sympathy as I could before he just wandered away. Now I am haunted by thoughts of that friendly neighborhood kid who had no one but his grandma and how he might be dying outside in the bushes of what used to be his own now affluent ''village''. I think about trying to find him and offering....what? Money I don't have, info. on resources I know nothing about, a warmer sleeping bag? I know there must be other terminally ill people living on our streets, and that better people than me are trying to meet their needs but after just letting him walk away like that I'm finding it harder to look in the mirror. Any thoughts on what to do or who to suggest he reach out to if I encounter him again? Useless Wannabe Samaritan


What a sad story! I also try to be a Good Samaritan, even though it sometimes backfires on me. I heard about an organization which is a resource clearing house in Concord, call the Monument Crisis Center. http://monumentcrisiscenter.org/ They recently moved to larger facilities at 1990 Market Street in Concord. Have him give them a call, or perhaps, if you felt comfortable with it, you could sit with him and call for him, take notes for him, etc. Best wishes for both of you.


He can apply to get Social Security Supplimental Income (SSI) for his disability while being treated. It will take time but he can get SSI after a few months and doctor's verification of his illness and treatment. He can also get general relief (GR) from social services on an on going basis to help a bit while he is waiting on his SSI. The GR will be approximately $150 a month and nothing he can live off of, but it will help, and they may give him a bus pass for doctor's visits. He can apply for food stamps too, which can help with meals. He will not be able to buy hot food, but he can eat. He is probably already on GR and food stamps which is why he indicated that they are not the solution to his needs. He can get medi cal if has has not already and see a doctor. Once he is in the social services system with medi cal they can help get him to his doctor visits with bus passes. If he has any substance issues then these programs can also help get him into treatment programs. If he has a substance abuse problem then he might be self medicating due to his situation with lung cancer and homelessnes and need mental health services for depression. Most people are not happy about being homless or having lung cancer, so it is safe to assume he may have some depression. He may visit the old neighborhood and chat with familiar faces to not feel so alone. As far as his living situation, shelters are a temporary solution, but he might be able to get long term housing because of his illness. Many shelters have transitional housing. If he can get a social worker through the county, a shelter, a doctor or mental health services he can get housing referrals. Social workers can sometimes get people into special programs. Each county is different and each county has a different way of implementing services to the indigent. Some have many services while others have very few to combat homelessness and illness. He can get off the streets if he wants to, but it will not be easy. He may already be doing some of this while he sl! eeps in the bushes in his old neighborhood. A lot of resources are online, so he will have to go to a library and use a computer to search and apply. He will need a way of contact if he does not have a cell or mailing address. Some homeless service centers offer mail service and voice mail. If he does not have a cell he can get free phone and service through the federal Lifeline program and have it mailed to a case/social worker. He needs a social worker. These links may be helpful:
Lifeline Cell http://www.assurancewireless.com/Public/Welcome.aspx
Shelter List http://www.homeless.org.au/directory/us-california.htm
Online Application for GR/FS/Medi Cal https://www.mybenefitscalwin.org/
Help With SSI http://www.rubiconprograms.org/socialsecuritydisability.html

Social Services Apprentice


There are actually options for your ''friend.'' There are social services and special programs which can get him living off the street, provide him food and clothing, and even provide him treatment. I STRONGLY recommend calling the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 (they have a website too: cancer.org, but the phone line is fast help). They have someone who answers the phone line 24-hours a day and they will direct you to the right person who can answer your questions, provide you resources, and possibly even get someone to go with you to talk to your ''friend.'' There is something you can do, and something you can recommend he do. Good luck. And thank you for caring enough to try and help him. An American Cancer Society Volunteer


Homeless Man on Colusa with tuberculosis

Jan 2013

I am wondering if I am alone in being concerned about a man who has taken up residence on Colusa in Berkeley, across the street from the Starbucks and up a few paces from a school. He has tuberculosis and needs treatment, but refuses. I am concerned that he will infect people, possibly children, if allowed to keep living there. He is, in fact, a health threat to the community. (He has tied an umbrella to a tree, and has boxes all around him---not sure if he is there at night.) My question is, what can be done, what should be done, if anything, and what is the right thing to do from an ethical stand point? Thanks for your input. Worried


The Alameda County Public Health Department. Having TB and not treated? Yup, community health risk, not sure how you know his condition... I found this link: Health Care for the Homeless Program Case Workers: (510) 532-1930 I will email this link now with data you provided Big O.


How do you know he has tb?? If you know for sure he has tb, you can call the public health department. Andrea


Even if this man has TB - and how could you know? you or the kids would have to sleep with him breathing in your face all night or in an enclosed space to get it. TB is not easy to get. If you are truly concerned, be concerned for him, not about him. talk to him, buy him some food and water and cough drops. be kind, for every person you meet carries a heavy burden


If you are actually certain that he has TB and certain he is refusing treatment, he can be civilly detained and treated against his will. You would likely have to go through the police department. Steph


Please notify the Berkeley Public Health Dept. If this man has active tuberculosis, I believe they have the power to force him to have treatment. (Tuberculosis is too contagious and dangerous to be left untreated.) Here is their info: http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/publichealth/ Anon


Contact the Berkeley Mental Health Mobile Crisis Team. http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/Health_Human_Services/Mental_Health/Mobile_Crisis_Team_(MCT).aspx Mobile Crisis: Everyday 11:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Phone (510) 981-5254 (Voice message) Phone (510) 981-5900 (Police Non-emergency 24 hr) Anonymous


First of all, TB CANNOT be transmitted outdoors. You must be in an enclosed space with little air exchange for an extended period of time. So your fears of children or others getting TB while passing by on the street are not realistic. That said, if in fact this man has TB, which I wonder how you would know, folks with TB are required by the Public Health Dept. to recieve treatment. If you are concerned for his wellbeing and the possiblity that if he moves indoors to a shelter for instance, that he may pose a health risk to others, you could call the Berkeley Health Dept and suggest a public health nurse or outreach worker visit this man so that he can get the treatment he needs and deserves. public health professional


Aggressive homeless woman in N. Berkeley swearing at me and my kids

April 2009

There is an older homeless woman who hangs out in our neighborhood (I live in Gourmet Ghetto), who is quite aggressive and mean. She does not ask for money, but instead seems to thrive on creating drama and conflict by swearing and cursing at random people walking by. She has done this to me for quite some time now and it is especially bothersome as I oftentimes I have my 3 children with me (the youngest only 3 years old). She'll call me various nasty names. I called the police about her and while they promised to speak with her as they are familiar with who she is- they said that she is not breaking any laws- even though she is verbally assaulting me and my children.

I am angry and frustrated that I can't do a simple thing like go out for coffee in the morning with my family without the worry that she'll be out there. I try to change my route to the Cheeseboard, but she'll often times be hanging out on either of the streets I go on to get to Shattuck (Cedar or Vine). While I appreciate that the police will speak to her, given that she is mentally ill, I doubt that it will change things. Does anyone have any advice? Would contacting my councilperson help? Is it illegal for me to carry pepper spray? I just hate that this woman has the right to just stand on the street and yell profanities at me and my children.

A Scared and Frustrated Resident


Sad to hear your attitude toward someone you know is mentally ill. If she's mentally ill, she's not exactly picking you out of the crowd to swear at. Can't you just let her be? The sidewalk there is wide enough that you don't have to rub shoulders with her to get by. If it is crowded, be patient, let others by then go by when there's more room on the sidewalk. You are not showing your children how to be sympathetic toward those less fortunate. I'm not saying you need to go hug the woman, or not be alert and cautious as you go by her. But remember you live in Berkeley, there are plenty of them around and that's part of the character of Berkeley. Don't call the police or your council person on her.


Screaming mentally ill people can be scary, for sure. However, this woman is - as you say - mentally ill. She has a disease that she cannot control, she is not deliberately trying to scare you or your children. The police are right, there is nothing legally they can do unless she is an imminent danger to herself or others. It is sad and frustrating that this woman does not have help (at least not that you know of) but I think you have little to fear from her. You can even use this as an opportunity to teach your children compassion for the homeless and the mentally ill. In San Francisco there is a ''MAP'' (mobile assistance patrol) van that will come and assess people like this woman (in SF). You might want to do some digging around and see if there is an equivalent in Berkeley. In the meantime I suggest doing what you have been - avoid walking by her as it clearly upsets you. If she is somewhere unexpected, just cross the street - sounds like you can hear her before seeing her anyway, so you should have ample time to do so. Please remember, she is a suffering ill woman, she is not deliberately targeting you or your kids. Psych Nurse


I know exactly who you're talking about! In fact, I posted a question to BPN about this same woman's harassment of me and my baby in the Gourmet Ghetto last year, after she threatened to hurt my child.

Their advice: Call the Berkeley Police Department and report the threat. I did so, and nothing happened.

This woman - older, gray-haired, sunglasses, often with a yellow bag on a wheeled cart - is clearly insane, but I agree with you that she should not be allowed to threaten women with children (her special target, evidently; who knows why?) in the neighborhood.

If you like, you can contact me, and I'd be happy to approach the Berkeley police again with you about this woman, and see if something can't be done. Laura H.


You would really consider pepper spraying an old, homeless, mentally ill woman for yelling at you while you walk into the Cheeseboard? Forgive me, but that is ridiculous and cruel. That's a well populated and busy area, and while her behavior is clearly upsetting, it's very unlikely that anything would escalate. I'm assuming she yells at many people all day. I would ignore her, enjoy your time inside the shops (where she's not allowed to enter, I presume), and carefully explain to your kids that she is very sick and needs help. anon


Dear Friend-

You seem to have talked to the wrong police officer- it IS illegal in Berkeley to verbally assault other people. The best way to deal with this is to go in person to the police station and ask for the Captain on duty. It takes a while for someone to come out, but be patient- the police are a little overwhelmed in Berkeley.

Another practical way to talk to an administrative officer is to call and make an appointment. Set up a connection and keep your contact with the police in writing. Then every time this person verbally abuses you and your children, call the non-emergency police line and report it. When this has happened 4-5 times report everything you have done to your council person. I guarantee you will see results. This person is NOT harmless- at the least he/she is suffering and needs help.

We had a similar situation here in the Elmwood years ago and it ended up with the mentally ill man following my daughter home and into our house when I wasn't home (she was 16). He was finally arrested but it took work on our part. Good luck! Susan


This sounds like a blond woman with glasses named Susan (or Suzanna maybe, I forget exactly) who used to hangout on Berryman St on the way to my bus stop, and sometimes right at my bus stop.

One day she started talking to me, and I was happy to talk to her too. She was very friendly to me for some reason but then would turn around and say the nastiest things about other people walking by, including people I talked to at my bus stop, like my neighbor. After a week or two she got up the nerve to ask me for money -- I gave her some money twice but when she kept asking me daily after that I stopped. She was rude to me for a while after that, then one day friendly again. Then out of the blue a couple months later it all turned and she was extremely unfriendly to me, too, saying nasty things. Fortunately my wife and kids are not usually with me when I have run into her.

After a while she stopped hanging out on my street and at my bus stop (although as the weather gets better I wouldn't be surprised if she came back). I'm not sure if that is because she is avoiding me or others in my area (maybe she has ticked off too many people, or others who were helping her stopped -- I have no idea).

In any case, I'm not quite sure how to handle your situation, but she told me once she used to be a teacher. You could try confronting her and asking her not to say such things around you with your children there. Perhaps the confrontation might be enough to get her to move to another location or to avoid you in the future. Of course it could also make it worse. I get the impression she is harmless, but maybe not, and confronting her could also be dangerous.

Good luck. Sorry to say I am glad she is hanging out somewhere else now and not at my regular commute route. lex


I'm sorry to hear about your experience- ahhh, the joys of living in Berkeley! Yes, you can carry pepper spray but do you really want to use it? Do you really think this woman will physically attack you unprovoked? It seems to me that this woman has picked up on your fear and is targeting you because of it. When you pass her, walk with confidence and ignore her taunts if possible. Have you ever tried speaking to her? What about offering her a meal or a coat? I don't know this particular homeless person but I know many times people just want some acknowledgement. If she's hanging out in front of a store you could ask for help from the employees- at least they could ask her to move away from the door. I'm sure the employees at the Cheeseboard and Peet's have some experience with her. Can you imagine being an elderly, mentally ill woman with no medical treatment, no home, no money, no support and no future? I understand your frustration that she is being allowed to harrass you but maybe it would help to step back and be thankful that you don't have her problems. It's unfortunate that there aren't more resources for the homeless (many of whom are mentally ill). anon


Verbally abusive homeless people are indeed annoying and can be intimidating, I agree. However, as you state...they are mentally disabled. So don't we need to have some compassion here? Think if she were your daughter, insane, untreated and on the street..you might be able to take exception to her crisis and rather than trying to make her disappear so you can have cozy walk to the Cheeseboard, just avoid her. Cross the street, go around. If she is not acting in a way that is causing a threat to herself or others, than leave her be. She is living in a hell you could not possibly comprehend. And with regards to your children, you will be giving them a much better lesson in how to be understanding and compassionate toward others who have serious problems. My son is two and like you we encounter mentally ill as well as developmentally disabled people who cannot control their verbal impulses and sometimes it's alarming. I always address what is happening with him and explain that some people are different and cannot help their tendency to yell or scream. He probably doesn't totally comprehend yet, but with consistent role-modeling, I know he will learn and hopefully live a compassionate life. Of course, if your children are older, I would also educate themselves about keeping themselves safe in the process. Please, the advice you seek on how to banish this person, in my opinion, is a bit heartless. Let's be a humane society. Heather


I think I know the woman you're referring to and I completely sympathize. My 6 year old daughter refuses to ever go to Saul's Deli again because there was a particularly nasty woman camped out a few doors up who looked my daughter in the eye when we were walking by her and said ''You're ugly. You're an ugly girl!''. It was pretty creepy. She even said ''I really like your clothes, but you are an ugly girl.'' and a few other pleasantries. I couldn't believe it. Here's my daughter who is a very kind and compassionate child stopped in her tracks wide- eyed in front of this woman and horrified. I told my daughter to ignore the lady and that she was a terribly unhappy and probably sick person who tried to make others unhappy also, but it really stuck with my girl and her friend who was with us for days after. When I stupidly tried to talk to the woman (more as a protective reflex than anything, but also to show my daughter how to be strong and compassionate even in an uncomfortable situation), she not surprisingly went off on me as well (guess what? I'm ugly too!). I debated calling social services or some other agency to try to get the woman help, but then decided to rather spend my efforts making it into a learning experience for my child about people, relationships, listening to your heart and maintaining your self confidence regardless of what anyone else says around you (know thyself).

Not sure if the police can do anything with people like that gal, but I for one would like to see her off the streets. The whole incident burned me up and was hurtful for my daughter - wouldn't like to see it happening to other unsuspecting children as well. I hope someone writes in with resources as I never took the time to look into it. Harrassed


IF this is the woman I am thinking about (very slight build, 60s) you should know that she has Tourette's and is harmless. I have given her money in the past and seen her sweet side in conversations with her. Please understand that she doesn't mean those things she says and she is not violent. I would avoid her when you are with your kids since they are too young to understand. But you might try talking with her sometime when your not with your kids, she'll surprise you. anon


I know exactly the woman you are talking about. When I was 9 months pregnant, she approached me, yelling that I was a ''F***ing b****'' and that she was going to ''kick my f***ing a**.'' Yeah, I was a little scared - she was right in my face and pretty serious about it. I also talked to a policeman, who happened to be nearby. He informed me that the police are familiar with this woman and her behavior, and that I should call them if I ever feel threatened.

Ummm . . . yeah. ''Hey crazy woman, would you mind pausing your verbal assault so I can whip out my cell and call the police on you?''

Not sure about the legality of pepper spray, but I carry a can (in case of crazy woman, purse snatcher, et al). I'm sorry I don't have any advice for you on how do deal with this - maybe contacting a councilperson is the way to go. Unfortunately, we live in a community where homeless people and pets seem to have more rights than tax-paying citizens and their children.

Note: I have lived in a city where panhandling was illegal, and it was AWESOME to walk downtown without being hassled/verbally abused. Tired of bums


Homeless family in SF - how to help?

Oct 2008

I was in San Francisco the other day where I ran into a homeless woman and her 4yr-old son. They were sitting on the ground at a very busy corner, reading a book. Initially I thought they were tourists waiting to get on a cable car. Almost as an afterthought it occurred to me that they had a handwritten sign, so I turned back and confirmed that they were asking for help. It turned out that they have been homeless for about a month. According to her, the family came from another state to CA because of her husband’s job, which for whatever reason didn’t happen. They don’t know anyone in the area, don’t have money to go back and are sleeping in shelters and churches. The husband goes to a labor office every day. She told me that when they do manage to get a bed in a shelter, they can’t go to sleep until 10:30pm and have to wake up at 6:30am. She said the boy has changed dramatically - became more aggressive and defensive. I was absolutely heartbroken, the feeling amplified by the fact that I have my own 4yr-old, who means the world to us, as I am sure her son does to her. All I could do at the moment was to give her some money, as well the phone number of United Way.

I have their first names and she gave me the phone number of organization, where she calls every day to find a bed. I should have asked for more information, but I was just flustered, I guess, and wasn’t thinking clearly at the moment. I can’t stop thinking about them and the little boy who might or might not have a place to sleep tonight. While I understand that I couldn’t just take them into my home, I do feel tremendously guilty for not doing more. But what? We are by no means wealthy, just your average four-people, one-income family. I called and emailed several organizations and received one not very promising response – the family should call such and such number to try to get into a long-term shelter, but there is a very long waiting list. I am not sure what I expected – someone to tell me, oh yes, there is a vacant apartment and a free day care, send them my way. I understand that this family is just one of many struggling families, and the little boy is one of many-many unfortunate kids. But this fact doesn’t make this particular situation any less sad and frustrating. I will try to locate them and would like to learn from this community about meaningful ways to help them if I do manage to find them.

the world is not fair


Bless your heart for the care and concern you have taken for this family - I'm not sure I would have been so thorough had I come across them myself. I can't offer much advice, but I will mention the Bay Area Crisis Nursery in Concord; it's worth a call. (925) 685-8052 (0-5 years) (925) 685-3695 (6-11 years). They help families during times of crisis, and although it's a bit of a distance for this family to travel, I believe they offer BART and cab vouchers. From what I remember, it's mainly a safe, nurturing place for the child to go while the parent finds work (or works out whatever crisis is occuring). Children stay for the day or overnight for several weeks, and while it's not an ideal situation for this family (the whole family can't stay together), it makes sense to call them and see what they can tell you. Best of luck. anon


Hi, I work at Compass Community Services and our Connecting Point program manages the waiting list for all families seeking shelter in SF. Yes, the wait is long and unfortunately with the current economic climate the demand for shelter has almost doubled since this time last year.

There are things, however, that you can do to help - building awareness of family homelessness, knowing what resources are out there (great job calling the United Way!!!) and of course volunteering. If you want to find out more about family homelessness in the Bay Area, please feel free to contact me.

In the early 90's one of our board members ran into a family on the street almost identical to the one that you described. She was so shocked by their situation that she decided that she had to act. She then helped to create our family transitional housing program, Clara House, which has guided hundreds of families out of homelessness to self-sufficiency! Lisa


Since they're in San Francisco, the family can call the Connecting Point for Families crisis hotline at 1-888-811-SAFE (7233) for immediate referrals to services which will help them find shelter as well as a bunch of social services and case management. Connecting Point is the front door to the family shelter system. The office is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed for lunch noon to 1 p.m.

For shelter the same night, they can call the Hamilton Family Emergency Center at (415) 292-5228 at 11:00 a.m. SHARP for available one-night and 60-day beds.

There is also child care available for homeless families who have at least one child under age 3 via the Children's Council of San Francisco at 445 Church Street, San Francisco, (415) 343-3300 or childrenscouncil.org. It sounds like this child might be too old for that, but I wanted to put it out there in case anyone else would find it useful.


You may not be able to help this particular family right now, but over time you can help all families who are homeless by becoming proactive. Too often people who can help spend their time talking to friends and family about how they wish they could help.

The reality is that to help, we need to leave our comfort zone and start making phone calls, knocking on doors and talking to people we wouldn't normally talk to. I suggest that you volunteer for a political cause that will prevent families from becoming homeless in the first place. Or volunteer for a non profit that works directly with homeless families to get them off the street. Write letters to politicians at the state and federal levels urging them to pass bills that will help families who are on the verge of going homeless. Get your family and friends involved. You may not have a direct impact on that family right away, but in the long run you will have an impact on all families. Anon


hi,

first i want to say how touched i was by your compassion - it is inspiration and reminds me where my focus should be. your son is learning from your actions and will in turn be a giving person i am sure.

i just learned about a free service to help people for low income housing (and other resources). their number is 211 -- or one could go online at edenir.org. but i heard their 211 number has more info.

amen for people like you! in gratitude


I know it sounds crazy, but you can actually have people come stay with you. My parents helped out homeless people in this way (we had a very big house, 5 kids, and lots of pets) and my brother and his wife do this too. I think it's crazy! But, I also greatly admire my brother and his family. They have a medium sized house, three kids and regularly bring people home. Yes, they are taking a risk. But, they are both Christians and take the Biblical mandate to care for the poor, widowed and orphaned very seriously, and I think that God is protecting them for doing this. I think that it's great that you are so concerned and that you even took the time of day to hear their story. May it continue to move you toward action. Nicole


I hope that I don't sound cold-hearted, but please realize that many (!!!) of these cases aren't real. My husband worked for the city of Alameda and went to a special meeting about homelessness in Berkeley. Apparently, more than 70% of homeless people in Berkeley aren't homeless. They, in fact, do have a home, but are able to make so much money on the street. So they make their way to certain areas and hold up their signs for donations. And according to the same study, more than 90% of those people don't even live in Berkeley. They come from surrounding cities.

When we lived in San Francisco, a girlfriend of mine was dating a guy who had divorced his wife. They shared custody of their 3 children - all under the age of 5. He caught his wife numerous times begging for money on the street. She would put her kids in dirty, old clothes and take them barefoot onto the bus. She would take them to the Union Square area and make money using her kids. At first I didn't believe the story. I couldn't believe it. I didn't have children of my own at the time, but it seemed incomprehensible that a mother would use her children like that just to support her cocaine habit. But I ran into them on the muni system one afternoon after they had been on the street with their mom for the day. I knew the kids, but didn't know their mother. The kids were oblivious about what was going on since they were still quite young. All 3 were barefoot and filthy.

The sad thing is that it is probably impossible to know which story is real and which isn't. It pulls on your heart strings and you naturally want to help. jj


Verbal harassment from homeless woman targeting me and baby

April 2008

I'm the mom of an infant in North Berkeley. For several months, we've been verbally harassed by a homeless woman who frequents the blocks near our house. Her abuse started when I was pregnant - whenever I passed her on the sidewalk, she would either say vile sexual things about my pregnancy or tell me that I'd die in labor. When I pass her with my baby in tow, she says other awful things: telling me that he's died, for example. The capper came last weekend, when she said she'd kill him. (We walked away as fast as possible, and she didn't try to act out her promise.)

Is there any recourse I can take against this woman? She's clearly schizophrenic and might not even realize what she is saying. On the other hand, she has definitely singled us out as particular targets of her words. She has never physically attacked us, so I probably can't ask the police to arrest her.

It's very stressful to take walks and run errands in the neighborhood now - we don't always spot her in time to cross the street and avoid her. And I don't know if she'll try to act out her threats. My baby is too young to understand what she's saying to us, but in a few months, he will.

Any advice appreciated. Thanks! Berkeley mom


This is not acceptable behavior, given that there is a child involved. An adult sometimes has to put up with this kind of unpleasantness as long as it does not seem likely to escalate into violence, understanding as we do that the person is ill. But a child does not understand and should not be exposed to this. I would contact the police and tell them that this woman has singled you and your child out for abusive behavior, that she frequents your neighborhood and you need her to stop her behavior and move on. Document the incidents, when they occur and what she says.

I should say that I have sometimes been disappointed by the lack of concern the police can show for abusive behavior when the mentally ill are guilty of it; I once called campus police to come and get a man who was shouting at the students in the hallway of our classroom building (and disrupting classes, by the by). They told me that our buildlig is a public building (as the streets are public) and that the man had a right to be there. It was only when I informed them that he was shouting racist insults that they showed up and took him away. But I think you should stand up for your child's sense of safety and security in your neighborhood. And by all means if the woman approaches you or becomes violent, do contact them!

public means for everyone


I think you are being overly empathetic to this woman. I don't think you should have to tolerate any situation where you feel that your safety and the safety of your child is compromised. I would start contacting the police and documenting what is happening. I would call them every time I saw the woman and voice that you do not feel safe. Hopefully they can find a mental health organization or relative that can help her. I have been a victim of violence from an individual who was schizophrenic (a scary, life altering incident) so please don't believe it is a harmless situation, especially if she is not under proper medical care and receiving medication. Good Luck


Definitely call the police! If you're (and she's) lucky, they'll help find her some help. At any rate, though, the kind of verbal threats she's made are DEFINITELY worth a call to the PD... anon


Hi there, It is not okay that someone is making threats against your child. This is considered a terrorist threat. This woman should be hospitalized. You should call 911 or your local mobile crisis team to have this woman 5150'd (hospitalized against her will). Use the words ''She is a danger to herself and others.'' If a person is considered a danger to themselves or others they can be hospitalized against their will. This woman needs help and so do you! Concerned social worker


I think I know the person you are talking about. She has said mean things to me before as I walked past her with my child. I do think you should contact the police in this case. Verbal harassment is still harassment and this woman has threatened your child. I wish there were more resources for the homeless, but there is no reason you should feel uncomfortable in your neighborhood. Anon


Berkeley Mental Health has a great field team called Mobile Crisis. They work in conjunction with BPD. When you have an altercation with this woman, call the Berkeley PD and ask for an officer and Mobile Crisis. In fact, you can call Mobile Crisis for consultation before you run into this woman again - they can advise you about how best to get an immediate response when it happens. They may even be able to ID the woman from your description, and if she's already a client with Berkeley Mental Health they can coordinate with her clinician. Calling BPD directly is better when you need them there quickly - they call the team up on the radio. Your situation is exactly what BPD and MCT are there for. From what you've described, it sounds like the woman is in need of psychiatric assessment and homeless outreach; it is unlikely she would be arrested but it is entirely possible that she would be 5150'd (involuntary psych hospitalization).

Since you feel you are being targeted and you have been approached by her repeatedly, you should also consult with BPD about a restraining order. You and your kids should not have to feel unsafe walking in your neighborhood! Incidentally, verbal threats are assault, not just physical attacks. --worked on Mobile Crisis too


I think this same woman frequented my neighborhood (Rockridge) 5 years ago when I was pregnant. She said horrible unthinkable things to me as well. Yes she may have mental health or chemical dependency issues, but that does not excuse her behavior. If you are feeling threatened/harassed/unsafe, then call the police. If she is threatening to harm someone the police can actually arrest her (she doesn't need to have already acted on her threats). If anything it may be a way for her to get the treatment she desperately needs. anon


File a police report and say she threatened to kill your child. Schizophrenic or not, homeless or not, there is no excuse for threatening to kill someone. And if she threatens to hurt him again or you, file another report. Show compassion to others, but protect your family


I don't know what legal recourse you have, but my advice is to do what you have to do to protect your family and yourself. Any nonviolent and legal answer is within your reach, from earplugs to consulting with a lawyer. If a restraining order is possible, I hope you will get it. Please know that I am intimately familiar with the suffering verbal abuse causes, and know that you have my full empathy and support.


Call the police. If that doesn't work, request a protective or restraining order. She is mentally ill but you don't have to take it. Victoria


This person is mentally ill. Please do not call the police on her. I'm sorry, but you live in a city. Homeless people without access to healthcare also live in the city. As much as it bothers you to interact with her, imagine how much it bothers her to not have a place to sleep at night. anon


Granted, the system is very, very complicated with such matters...However, often family members of mentally ill adults pray for a threat of physical violence because only the threat that a mentally ill person is going to kill or kill themselves will warrant any action. a sad situation indeed. Now that this woman has specifically threatened to ''kill'' as you said in your posting, it is time to call the police. This is not by any means the best case scenario for this woman but it may possibly get her on the track to voluntary medical treatment. It sounds like medication is what she is lacking among countless other things. In my mind you'd be doing a service to this woman by making the call for help that she is not capable of doing herself. So yes, if you feel that this is an option for you, call the police. If not, ask the folks at the City's mental health division: http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/SubUnitHome.aspx?id=15670 and take a roundabout path to avoid her in the meantime. blake


Check out the website for Kid Power - http://www.kidpower.org this organization was started by a woman who was being harassed by a homeless man while she was in charge of a group of Girl Scouts. She felt so helpless that she started researching and developing a program to help people ''defend'' themselves but not through violence. They teach seminars and have books you can buy online. It is also great for disabled people and children. good luck


She has crossed the line by threatening you and your family. I agree that it sounds like she has some mental health issues that need to be addressed but by verbally threatening you (and you clearly feeling fear) this is absolutly grounds on which you can call the police -- the crime she committed is called terrorist threates. I am not a lawyer but work in the criminal justice field, I forget the penal code section but it is certinally grounds for arrest. If she threatened you and you thought she was joking this would not qualify necessarily as an arrestable offense. When you speak with the police you can also request a restraining order against her. The problem is that given her mental health issues she may not have the self control enough to not return to your neighborhood if that is where she lives/stays. But if that is the case, and she returns against the terms of the restraining order then you can call the police again and ask that she be arrested for violating a restraining order.

I should also say that it is likely that after she is arrested she will be appointed an attorney to represent her in any criminal charges that are filed against her as a result of this incident. The attorney (or their investigator) will likely contact you to get more information about the incident(s). This is just to let you know that once you call the police the issue will not end there -- there will likely be a legnthy process in the courts...

I'm sorry you and your family are going through this and i hope that you are able to find some safty in your neighborhood. I might also suggest that if there is a block or two (or three) that you know she is often on, stay off those blocks! Take a detour and go another way. Find a new path to walk in your neighborhood. Good luck. Anon


Call the police next time it happens, she's mentally ill and making increasingly violent threats. Who knows what she's capable of? Not that kind of risk taker


Homeless man sleeping in front of my office door

Sept 2004

When I come to work in the morning there is often a homeless man sleeping in front of my door. This has gone on for several months. I see patients at this office and he is sometimes blocking their entrance. Although I don't find him threatening, I do feel vulnerable confronting him on a frequent basis. I am torn between feeling sympathetic and wishing he would go away. What to do?

- Looking for the decent and safe thing to do


Yes, that does seem like an awkward situation. I would simply tell the homeless person that he is welcome to sleep there until your office opens up for business. At that time, he needs to find somewhere else to set up camp. sylvie


if he's not threatening try starting a repore with him. tell him its OK to stay there at night (I'm assuming that it is)but you need him to find another place during the day starting when you come in and say good morning so that your clients can come in. thank him for cooperating.

if its not too inconvenient, bring him a morning snack as a send off. if he still doesn't move away tell him more strongly that it really is important to your business that the doorway be ! empty during the day.

if he still doesn't move or he gets an attitude, tell him you'll have to call the cops, and do so. anon


Homeless woman with mental issues, doesn't want to go to a shelter

Oct 2004

We have a homeless woman living around our Church in Oakland. I know she's one of many, but she's made personal contact with us. In August, she knocked on the priest's door saying she wanted to become a Catholic so he directed her to the faith formation group of which I'm a part. We didn't realize she was homeless at first, but after the first meeting, we figured it out.

Now, this is a well meaning group,part of a well meaning Church, a community of mostly liberal Catholics strongly committed to social justice. Everyone has welcomed this woman into our group. She seems to feel comfortable around us. We know that at least on this night she gets food and is off the street for a little while. Various people in the parish have been watching out for her, feeding her. Some have tried to direct her to shelters but she doesn't go. The thing is, she seems to have some mental problems so we don't believe going to a shelter would help all that much. She's talking to herself and some nights she seems more agitated and erratic than others.

I called Catholic Social Services and recieved voice mails from a busy and harried sounding social worker giving me a list of shelters. In fact, everyone I consult simply gives me a list of shelters.

Because none of us have the training to know how to deal with this situation, nor the knowledge of how the homeless system works in general, we seem to be running into a lot of dead ends. Ideally, we'd like a social worker to meet her, evaluate her situation and direct her to mental care, medication and hopefully more permanent shelter.

The thing we all wonder is, how does anyone get off the street with a system like this? It's impossible! You go to one place to sleep for the night and they kick you out in the morning. Then, there's another place you can go for a shower. And, still another place you go for meals. And, all of these are only for limited times. We all feel utterly defeated and helpless.

I was hoping someone on this list might know the best course of action (aside from giving me a list of shelters) to try and help this person or at least give her the opportunity for help. She may refuse just as she refuses to go to the shelters, but at least we would know we tried. Maybe helping her get off the street just isn't possible.

In the meantime, our group is trying hard to follow our beliefs of ''whatsoever you do the least of my brothers...etc. etc.'' We're all learning a hard lesson and trying to figure out what's the best way to apply what is percieved as a simple and right idea. Some of us feel that if we were good Christians we should be taking her in, giving her a place to stay. But, we all know that is not has easy as it seems. At the very least, we treat her as someone who sought to become a Catholic and is participating in adult faith formation. It's not our place to judge her. But, we all seem to think that she could be the type of person who could get off the streets with the right help. But, maybe we're just naive. Or, maybe we are all being judgmental and should just butt out of her life. It's so complicated.

Any advice is most appreciated.

Thank you.


Try calling BOSS (Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency, or something to that effect) in Berkeley for advice; I believe they serve Oakland as well: 649-1930 or http://www.self- sufficiency.org. They help homeless people find treatment, shelter, job training, etc., if the person is truly committed to changing her or his life. Melanie


You know, I hate to be pessimistic, but maybe there is not much you can do if the lady is mentally ill and does not want to have any treatment. I have a mentally ill older relative who is functional enough to get out and about by herself, but not functional enough to prepare meals for herself, take care of finances, launder her clothes, pick up after herself. She enjoys social situations but she is so dependant on those around her that it can be quite a trial to be patient with her. She frequently has periods of extreme agitation and distress, but she refuses to seek treatment. We are seeking counseling ourselves to figure out how to deal with her, so you might consider consulting with a professional - perhaps there is a Catholic Social Services organization that can advise you? I wish you all the best - I know you want to help this lady but some things are just not within reach. Anon


I'd like to suggest a couple of things.

First, get together with the other people in your church who want to help this woman and set some limits now. For example, you might all agree on having this woman over for dinner, but not offer a place to sleep. Or providing food at church, but not in your home. Write down the limits you set so you all remember them. You'll want to do this soon so you don't end up feeling manipulated later in case it drags on.

Another thing, you might try to find out why this woman is uninterested in shelters. She may have gotten kicked out of some shelters for not following the rules and simply not be allowed back. I don't know what the confidentiallity rules are like at homeless shelters so this information might not be available from them.

I used to work for a women's crisis line, and a small percentage of people who used our services were VERY manipulative. We had to set limits with them or they would have drained all of our resources, not to mention the patience of our volunteers. anon


The main problem with homelessness is the sleep deprivation. You need to give a homeless person a place to sleep, at least nightly for 8hrs./7days a week. It doesn't have to be a fancy expensive place. Most people who have slept on the street are able to sleep in a car, on the floor, in a garage, shed or basement, if you can't do the Christian thing and invite them into your home, which is what you should do. I know it may be hard for you to believe, but the shelters (and it is very hard to get into one, because there is only one bed for every 350 homeless people in the Bay area, so unless you have access to a phone and can spend at least 12 hrs. a day calling repeatedly to places that don't care & misallocate funds, spaces aren't available) are worse than the streets, act like big brother, Make you attend church 5x every day before you can eat and misuse your personal info.

Of course, very few people can spend 12 hrs. a day calling, social workers don't work with homeless people (except to hand out worthless lists of places you can't get into anyway, many times with outdated phone numbers and unreasonable restrictions, such as no male children over 10.) All of the places that are supposed to help, misallocate funds and don't use the funds they have been given by gov. sources to help the homeless. See the article on lst pg. of Berkeley Daily Planet, vol. 6 ,issue 57, Oct. 22-25 edition entitled ''HUD Report Blasts Jubilee''. All of the agencies in BRK set up to supposedly help the homeless - BOSS, Jubilee Restoration, Job Consortium, BHA, & others are guilty of hurting them more than helping, stealing from them, hiring family members who receive duplicate salary payments, and misallocating from $600,000 to over $1million in funds (per agency).

Because of the way the system doesn't work, a homeless person is daily faced with such devastating questions as deciding whether to go see the Dr. or whether to go stand in line for a sugar & starch laden meal that will ultimately make you more unhealthy. The ultimate problem is a lack of money. If you give any homeless person enough money for shelter (there are absolutely no hotels in the area anywhere accessible by bus for less than $60 a night (maybe some drug infested dumps somewhere) but no where a decent respectable person can sleep. Give her a warm place to sleep, even if it's only the floor of your garage, it's a lot better than being out in the cold rain and if you can, give her some money so she can get essentials like vitamins and maybe a decent haircut, don't refer to her with a label or in a condescending manner by calling her a homeless person, but refer to her by her name, love her, pray for her & help her as much as you can but don't expect some agency or social worker to do it for you because they are overworked, understaffed, overstressed & generally unhelpful, which is why we now have so many homeless people. Remember, all it takes is to lose your job for a month to become homeless& if you have health problems, as well, the situation becomes much more unmanageable and the $200mo from welfare, if you get it, barely covers a month's worth of public transportation to showers and meals, much less anything else. Start with one person at a time. If everyone would help one homeless person, we could eradicate the problem of Homelessness. Most homeless people are intelligent, kind and simply down on their luck, over 80% due to a medical or physical disability, which caused them either to lose or be unable to get or keep a good job. I hope this helps.


as one who has worked with homeless people, the most important thing you can do is acknowledge homeless people as human beings....(first, acknowledge your own fear of one paycheck, one illness, away from homelessness-or whatever your fear may be--mental illness, smell, desperation, etc).....ASK THE NAME of the homeless person and remember it, make eye contact, talking to homeless people, asking their stories is soo incredibly healing for the people on the streets...many homeless people work, sometimes 2 jobs, and have families! VOTE compassionately, donate money/time/food/clothing/blankets to homeless organisations. if a homeless person asks you for money and you are concerned about the use of that money and you have money to spare, offer to buy lunch/food/a sandwich/carton of milk, cup of coffee for a homeless person--better yet, invite a homeless person to have lunch with you and hear her/his story...donate toilet coins/offer old washers or driers to homeless shelters; call to see if there is a need. if you've sleeping bags or tents or camping gear or bicycles or wheelbarrows you are not using, ask of course, if that particular person needs or call a shelter or homeless organisation. (when ''sweeps'' are done in cities, often shopping carts are taken.) ''do'' the Faithful Fools Tenderloin Ministry weekend experience to see what it is like to be on the streets as a way of living in solidarity. it's eye opening, that is for sure! Bernie Glassman's ''Bearing Witness'' recalls their ministry of solidarity with the homeless people--powerful stories. socks are a HUGE need, as are shoes. one young woman in berkeley used to donate her time--she WASHED the feet and did foot care for homeless people, gave pedicures, rubbed lotion and oil into feet and then put new, clean socks on their feet. a woman in SF has ministry of caring/healing touch/massage for homeless folks--donate time, take the class (Mary Ann Finch is her name), donate to her work


Homeless person living nearby

Oct 2003

A homeless man has been living/camping-out at the main freeway exit in my neighborhood. He has dimentia (talks to himself a lot), and he parks 3 shopping carts packed with his stuff on the sidewalk at the end of the freeway. I'm torn about this situation.

1) he seems to need medical/mental help
2) it's going to be getting cold soon and he should be in a shelter rather than outside.
3) I see children walking by this man and his stuff during the day (garbage and broken glass too) and it's kind of scary.
4) it bothers me to see him there so close to my neighborhood. It is a negative impression for someone who is just getting off the freeway.

To date I have called:
- Adult Protective Services in hopes of helping this man get the assistance he needs
- Caltrans (since it is part of the freeway and it is illegal for people to live there)
- Police

Has anyone ever dealt with this kind of situation? What did you do? What was the solution if any?

Wanting to do the right thing