City shuts down another West Berkeley homeless camp

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Berkeleyside – By  Emilie Raguso and Natalie Orenstein

Last week, it was RVs at the marina. This week, the city of Berkeley set its sights on Second and Cedar streets.

The city of Berkeley has spent much of this week breaking up a relatively longstanding homeless encampment centered at Second and Cedar. Homeless campers in the area have been told they need to move.

City spokesman Matthai Chakko said the cleanup started Monday after staff handed out notices the prior week. The city estimated that about 26 people were living in an area spanning five city blocks when the effort began. As of Thursday, he said, 45 tons of garbage and debris had been cleared.

The city notices were addressed to “persons lodging/camping on Second Street, Jones Street, Cedar Street, and Virginia Street.” It told them they were in violation of rules related to public lodging and obstruction of streets or sidewalks.

Chakko said “a pretty significant and sizable collection of people” had moved to the area, bringing with them “a growing number of health and safety concerns.” Those included feces, urine, needles and rats, Chakko said. The street also had been blocked, he added.

Monday, the city began clearing the area and “encouraging people to move,” Chakko said. “It became an environment that wasn’t safe for them or for anybody else that might be going through that area.”

Chakko said health and safety concerns have driven how the city has prioritized its response to illegal encampments in Berkeley. The city’s Homeless Outreach Team has visited the Second Street camp multiple times to try to connect people on the streets with services. In addition, the city gave out reservations for Berkeley shelter beds. A few people made reservations, Chakko said, but no one showed up to claim them Monday or Tuesday nights.

He said there had been no arrests or citations, but authorities did find more than one unoccupied vehicle with expired registration. Those vehicles were towed.

Chakko said the city gives people ample time to move their property anytime there’s a cleanup effort. Any abandoned item that appears to have value is stored and can be picked up later, he said.

Thursday morning, the Berkeley Police Department put out a Nixle alert advising of “Intermittent Road Closures” in the 600 and 700 blocks of Cedar Street on Thursday: “To allow for Public Works maintenance, Cedar Street between Eastshore Highway and Fourth Street will be intermittently closed throughout the day between now and 3 pm. Persons driving through the area should expect delays and plan to use alternate routes.”

Chakko said the Nixle alert was, in fact, related to the encampment cleanup.

The people who were living in the camp are now scattered around various other sites. A small group relocated with their possessions just a block or so up Cedar Street.

A man who goes by the name Dartagnan was standing by the downsized Cedar camp Thursday afternoon. He said he’d swept up the area around the box he was living in on Second Street after receiving the notice, and got rid of some of his belongings, because “usually people leave huge messes and I hate that.”

“I wasn’t too unhappy with the process until it came to a point when I felt deceived,” Dartagnan said. He said the city’s notices seemed “deliberately vague” since they didn’t specify how far up Cedar or Virginia the warning applied.

“I don’t blame the individual workers,” he said. “Still, [the clear-out] triggered me. It was trying, physically and mentally.”

Earlier this week, longtime homeless advocate and attorney Osha Neumann of the East Bay Community Law Center sent an open letter to city officials to share his concerns about the city’s approach to the Second Street encampment. He wrote that he happened to be driving down Cedar when he saw police and city staff handing out violation notices. He went on to describe the scene he observed when he stopped to speak with them.

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