Hard Life of Berkeley’s Downtown Street People — News Analysis

by Steed Dropout
April 3, 2015


Shadow Ninja. Photo by Ted Friedman.

“Life on the streets is bad for health,” says Ninja Kitty, a downtown street-person-spokesman.

He said this at a news conference, last week, outside a downtown cinema. The news conference was a response to a much viewed video showing a Berkeley downtown ambassador tromping a transient.

Cameras roll. Photo by Ted Friedman.

Kitty is a cool kat, with a knack for attracting media. There were at least three TV stations, and a roost of reporters/photographers covering Kitty’s latest scene. His previous big scene was when he appeared at Berkeley City Council, two years ago, speaking against a no-sidewalk-sitting ordinance.

Kitty was dressed, then, as a kat (sic.), who tried to organize downtown street transients into a resistance movement. He proclaimed that all cops could do to him was send him to county jail, where he would get “three hots and a cot.” He was trying, back then, to build a coalition of downtown street people to resist police sweeps downtown where the street scene had turned ugly.

Crowd Gathers, outside multi-plex to Support Downtown Street People.
Photo by Ted Friedman.

His media coup, last week, advances the Kat’s agenda, which seems to lead downtown’s street people into yet another confrontation with police. The last time this happened, a few years ago, Berkeley cops cleared the downtown streets and celebrated with an ice-cream social.


Welfare check. Photo by Ted Friedman.

Ninja was introduced by Paul Kealoha Blake, chairman of Berkeley’s Mental Health commission, co-owner of the East-Bay Media Center, and a downtown activist. Several TV stations, Judith Scheer, of the Bay Area News Group, Becky O’Malley, editor of the Berkeley Daily Planet, and the Daily Cal were there.

The star was Ninja Kitty, who told ch 7 that he had been homeless for nine years. “It hurts our health,” said Ninja. “They take our stuff and make it hard to survive. It’s like living in a war zone.”

He compared the downtown ambassadors (one of whom is seen punching a provocative street transient on the video-gone viral) to “the Nazi Gestapo. I’m not surprised….I’ve seen a lot of violence against the homeless,” Ninja said.

Ninja has dropped his cat-suit for student garb. He comes to Telegraph occasionally to monitor the Telegraph Avenue scene looking like a Cal student. Rhetoric would be his field–Phd.

He’s a charismatic speaker, whose fiery rhetoric (at city council) has gone from anger to narratives of life on the streets downtown. Ch. 7 asked him pointedly if he’d ever heard of BOSS (a Berkeley outreach program to the homeless) “…I’ve been on their housing list for 6 years,” Kitty said, scornfully.

Ninja told Ch. 7 that he was “on SSI [disability income] for post traumatic stress disorder from trying to survive on the streets. It just get’s worse and worse, [for us],” he said, noting that a homeless friend of his had his eye fractured by an ambassador.

Life on Berkeley’s streets is like “living in a war zone,” Kitty repeated.


Make Pizza Not War. Photo by Ted Friedman.

The street scene outside Papa John’s Pizza might pass for a war zone. During Kitty’s nearby news conference, demonstrators got a good view of a street scene which seems poised to be at the center of the storm over Berkeley’s treatment of its downtown street people.

No more than twelve, at its peak, this street corner society, with its bicycles, packs, and personal belongings, makes passing like threading a needle, and may, eventually, draw a harsh response from Berkeley cops.

A member of this society was, last month, refused service at PJs. This refusal set off a sidewalk chalk campaign, which was washed away by PJ’s, according to this passing reporter.

PJ’s management then became embroiled in a dispute over whether it could squelch employees who supported the street people. The district’s city-councilman jumped in with a warning to PJs management.

The last time the street scene downtown tried to organize, the scene was ousted before it could make history.

Ice Cream socials downtown, or more trouble on the streets. Stay tuned.

More photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/berkboy/

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