Homeless disperse after Berkeley clears Gilman Street homeless encampment

Gilman Overpass Composite
Alvin Wu/Staff

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On Friday morning, the city of Berkeley cleared a homeless encampment of about 10 people at the Gilman Street overpass.

The city had previously issued a public nuisance notice at the encampment under the overpass but decided to terminate it July 9 based on reports by the East Bay Community Law Center that the occupants needed more time to make relocation arrangements. A part of the termination notice, however, said the city could still take action against the encampment to remove all personal belongings “without further notice.”

“The area is not a healthy or safe place to stay, and conditions had increasingly worsened since the beginning of May,” said City Manager Christine Daniel in a Friday city memo.

In an earlier memo, Daniel noted a significant increase in the number of times police had to be called to the area since residents from the Albany Bulb agreed to leave as part of an April settlement. A former landfill, the bulb served as a longtime homeless encampment until Albany started enforcing a no-camping ordinance.

Before the settlement this year, there were only two police calls for service to the Gilman overpass. Since the beginning of May, there have been six calls for police assistance, including reports of robbery and trespassing, according to a city memo. In addition, the site had one arrest for suspected drug possession and three arrests for allegedly outstanding warrants, including weapons and probation violations.

Cleanup of the area saw about “1,000 pounds of garbage, rotting food, hypodermic needles and other debris that have created significant harborage for rodents and raised substantial health and safety concerns,” Daniel said in the memo.

According to the memo, those staying at the encampment were given time to collect their belongings before the cleanup started. About 30 cubic yards of items seeming to be of value were stored and can be reclaimed at the Transfer Station, a Berkeley facility just off the Gilman Street freeway exit.

Osha Neumann, a lawyer at the East Bay Community Law Center who has worked with members of the encampment to find housing, said the decision to clear out the site took him by surprise.

He said now that the encampment has been cleared, finding housing for the occupants will become more difficult.

Some, he said, moved to a strip of land next to the Gilman Street off ramp after the encampment was dismantled, while another went to the Berkeley Marina. But he has not been able to locate others.

“The city said it was terminating (the public nuisance notice) to give people more time to get into housing. We relied on that,” Neumann said. “Now it’s much more difficult because people have dispersed.”

Daniel said in the memo that the city will continue to work with the individuals that were under the overpass to move them into housing, including through efforts such as providing financial subsidies to support housing costs. A number of city staff and community agencies have been contracted by the city to work with the individuals.

Neumann called those who still cannot find housing “criminals of poverty” now that sites such as the Albany Bulb and the Gilman Street overpass have been cleared.

“The basic need to lie down and sleep has become a criminal act,” he said. “There is not a place for them, and that’s what is so tragic.”

Nico Correia is the lead city reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @nicolocorreia.