Strange War with Berkeley’s Telegraph Ave. Street Kids
by Steed Dropout
July 24, 2014
A DAY IN THE LIFE
A typical day, yesterday, for Craig Becker, 62, who recently put Berkeley’s most famous (60 year-old) coffee house-cafe up for sale: first, he had to eject a psychotic, then he got into a brief hassle with street kids he was about to wash off the sidewalk with a power hose outside his Caffe Mediterraneum, on a seedy stretch of Telegraph Avenue.
“We don’t think it’s very nice of you,” protested a sprayed-out young newcomer to the Telegraph scene.
Such sidewalk power-washings were supposed to have driven off street people, but drought concerns and other distractions have lessened the effectiveness of the washings, Becker told me. Becker says his tangles with street people is not related to the sale of the Med.
Becker’s skirmishes/police actions against street-people and People’s Park is no secret on Berkeley ‘s South side where Telegraph property owners have for years had it in for uncooperative street people and People’s Park, where street people often convene when they’re not encamped on Telegraph.
Becker is president of the property owner’s–Telegraph Business Improvement District; his calls for change on the streets and in People’s Park often show up as articles in the Daily Cal and other Berkeley rags.
If the owner’s grievance–that street people reduce business–was a declaration of war…then they have lost the war.
FORMER HIPPY HANGOUT CATERS TO STREET PEOPLE IT TRIED TO OFF
Irony was invented to describe how Teley property-owner and street-scourge Craig Becker would wind up serving as a coffee source, bathroom, and locker-room to a demographic he wishes would get out of town.
Becker’s seemingly harsh views on Berkeley’s street kids go back more than ten years. He serves as an appointed commissioner on Berkeley’s Homelessness Commission, where he advocates, as do community outreach workers, that street kids, who are able, re-establish ties with their families. O.T. (out-of-towners) call home!.
LIFE IS GOOD AT MEDVILLE
Outside the Med has become a village. Call it Medville. Someone has been dumping couches, chairs and clothes that the city quickly removes. Food drops are regular. The Caffe Med sells coffee and a restroom to street-kids, who earn their Med-rights with cleanliness and good deportment.
Becker explains that anyone who follows his cafe rules is free to Med-up, but break a rule and get caught, as this reporter did recently, when he was asked to leave with his outside food (a no-no) and you might have to deal with Becker. “Feel free to come back later,” Becker invited.
Outside the Med is a cop stop, where cops can usually find an outstanding warrant or break up a hassle. Savvy street kids, many with years of on-the-road experience, have learned to keep their police records as clean as their laundered clothes. A nearby laundromat offers free weekly laundering.
Telegraph property owners envy downtown’s economic achievements. They are no fans, however, of Teley encampments, which a shoppers’ survey said scare shoppers away.
Teley property owners hoped that Measure “S,” banning sitting on walks would boost business. After “S” lost big-time at the polls, sitting has given way to lying which has always been illegal. Street loungers have learned to lie down, illegally, on sidewalks by napping like cats.
Becker would like to move street-people’s services out of the Med’s neighborhood, which is a matter of feet from the park; services like Becker’s. Becker told me he once asked the university to move People’s Park’s Food-Not-Bombs, a popular free feed, out of nearby-People’s Park to Cal’s campus Campanile. When that happens, Teley can once more thrive, Becker claims.
Teley owners recently hired downtown ambassadors to clean up and beautify the avenue, hoping to equal a business revival downtown. The more Teley ambassadors clean graffiti and litter, the more graffiti and litter mounts.
A recent Teley beautification project installed thirty-two plant-filled pots to hang from Teley street poles. You may not see the pots, without looking up–way up, because city planners had to hoist the pots so high they would not be peed in. Someone will find a way.
The planters were just another amenity, courtesy in part, of Craig Becker.