UC Berkeley to build student, homeless housing at People's Park

BERKELEY, Calif. (KGO) -- The birthplace of the Free Speech Movement is about to experience a re-birth as a place for UC Berkeley students and the homeless to sleep.

The University is announcing plans to put student housing and housing for the homeless on the site of the famous People's Park.

These days, People's Park is more synonymous with crime than with free speech. In fact, as we arrived U-C Berkeley Police were making an arrest.

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UC Berkeley student Paul Jeong - who lives nearby - says that's not unusual. "It's pretty dangerous. Often times you get a lot of alerts saying things like armed robberies that happen. So it kind of gets students on their toes, especially at night."

There have been previous plans to put student housing on the three-acre site. But, they never got anywhere. However, UC Berkeley leaders say this time the ideas, money and the will are in place to cover all the bases.

"There we can put up student housing, we can meet the university's responsibility to work with the city to address the homeless situation. We can take a major step towards combating crime and revitalizing that neighborhood," said Dan Mogulof, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs.

Dorm rooms and apartments are both scarce and expensive for the 42-thousand students a Cal. This new plan calls for enough rooms for a thousand students at People's Park and up to 125 permanent housing units for the homeless - to be funded by private developers in conjunction with the university.

Third-year student Madeline Lee is excited. "I think that would actually be great."

But, not everybody agrees. Eighty-year-old Michael LaCour was there at the beginning when students took over space in 1969 to protest the Vietnam war.

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He says that's still it's purpose. "It's probably the only place in the country where you can sign up and go have a rally and say what you think," he said.

But the university says it's thinking long term. It only has living space for less than 20 percent of students. The People's Park proposal is part of a plan to double that amount.

But the homeless are concerned that the real aim is to get rid of them. A man who would only identify himself as Jay told us, "You can say it's a bad park all you want, but stay around long enough and kids come, college students come all types of people come."

Timeline to completion is 4 years, and they have the mayor's full support.

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