Berkeley, CA Tent City Enters Fourth Week of Protest (Oakland Tribune 16/7/10)
Having experienced a decade of homelessness with little material gain to show for it, Dan McMullan, who now keeps a roof over his head, has voluntarily returned to the streets from whence he came, but this time he has a cause.
That cause is fighting Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed cuts to the state’s services for disabled people, and the form McMullan’s mission has taken is a small tent city that sprang up in the center divider island of Adeline Street between Ashby and Russell streets in Berkeley. The camp launched more than three weeks ago and is made up of 17 tents and their residents, a makeshift outdoor kitchen, a community bulletin board and daily events, all held together under the moniker of Arnietown.
Towering above the nylon rooftops of Arnietown is a paper mâche statue of its namesake, Gov. Schwarzenegger posed with an ax and a cigar, symbolizing what campers say is a rich man’s casual decimation of lifeline services.
“They’re always throwing us on the table for cuts,” said McMullan, who lost one leg and the use of an arm in a motorcycle crash in 1984 and spent the next 10 years or so homeless.
Now living in a Section 8-funded home with two children he cares for, McMullan said, he returned to the homeless lifestyle deliberately to spotlight the twin terrors facing the disabled: nursing homes and homelessness.
In May Gov. Schwarzenegger proposed a $637 cut in General Fund cash to the
state’s In-Home Supportive Services program, as the state faces a $19 billion deficit in the coming fiscal year.
“The governor sees the real Californians and real consequences behind these cuts. They are not cuts the governor wants to make, but it is his job to ensure the state lives within its means,” said Rachel Arrezola of the governor’s press office.
Berkeley resident Peni Hall, 61, said she relies on regular in-home care to manage her daily life. Afflicted with diabetes, chronic back and body pain and a muscle-and-bone condition called fibromyalgia, Hall gets around in a motor-powered wheelchair and has to wear an oxygen tank.
The help she gets from IHSS workers, she said, is crucial.
“They clean up, cook a meal, do some house cleaning, food shopping and run errands,” she said. “If I need to be taken to the doctor, somebody will take me to the doctor. I have one person who comes in once a week and helps me pay all my bills. They refill my tanks.”
Without that aid, Hall said, “I would live in a state of squalor because washing dishes and things like that is really, really hard for me. I have two torn rotator cuffs.”
“Doing things with my hands is very difficult. I’m in a lot of pain, she added, “You don’t see it because pain is invisible; that’s how it is for many of us. You either sit in a corner and people don’t talk to you, or you stifle it and go on and do your best.”
Berkeley police have been directed by officials at City Hall “not to enforce any lodging or trespassing laws” with respect to the encampment, Sgt. Mary Kusmiss said.
However, officers assigned to that area have been keeping a close eye on the camp to make sure it doesn’t spill out into the street or cause any other danger, she added. As of Wednesday, police had received no serious complaints about the camp, but several questions from callers about what exactly the camp is doing there.