Homeless encampments along railroad prompt concerns from residents

Maggie Soun/Staff

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In the wake of the dispersal of people living in a large homeless community in Albany, various homeless encampments along the railroad tracks between Cedar and Gilman streets have prompted concerns among local residents.

Some of the homeless individuals inhabiting the edges of the railroad tracks and surrounding streets were originally from the Albany Bulb, a homeless community that was largely emptied by a settlement between its inhabitants and the city of Albany in April. Last week, the city of Berkeley cleared an encampment under the Gilman Street overpass, where other Bulb residents had relocated, dispersing more people.

According to Allen Hardy, owner of an auto service company located near the tracks called H&B Inc., the presence of people living along the railroad has been a long-term problem.

Cameron Shaw, a former Bulb resident who is now living in a small encampment off of Second Street, said people had been occupying the area for years before he arrived. Aware of the public complaints about garbage left by these camps, Shaw and his neighbors try to mitigate their impact on the area.

“We have good stewardship and clean anything in excess that might disturb the fellow man,” Shaw said.

The city of Berkeley cleared the Gilman camp because it gave rise to excessive waste and increased calls to the police, among other health and safety problems, according to a city memo. But the larger concern regarding the railroad track camps is the issue of the inhabitants being so close to passing trains.

Some surrounding business owners claim to have seen homeless people running across the tracks and are concerned that they may be hit. In October, Mark Schwartz, a local homeless man and activist, was struck and injured by a Union Pacific train at Gilman Street. In March of this year, Matthew Finch of El Cerrito was struck and killed by a train near Northwest Berkeley.

Aaron Hunt, spokesperson for Union Pacific — which owns the land that the tracks run on — said the company takes extensive precautions to warn pedestrians about the danger of being near the railroad, regularly patrol the tracks and cite any trespassers.

“Freight trains are deceptively quick and passenger trains travel at more than 70 mph,” Hunt said in an email. “We work constantly to make people aware that railroad property is never a safe place to be.”

Osha Neumann, an attorney with the East Bay Community Law Center, has worked with residents from the Bulb and the Gilman overpass to help them find housing. He said he hopes the city will take more action to help, rather than relocate, the homeless individuals.

Berkeley plans to provide financial subsidies to fund housing and has partnered with community agencies to help displaced homeless people, according to city memos.

“We have a shredded safety net now — one that has holes you could drive a truck through,” Neumann said. “The object for concern in Gilman and Second are the people who fell through those holes.”

Contact Sarah Rockwood at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @srockwood44.

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  • Thorn A. Fusco

    although some police patrols should be conducted, i’d love to see the city/ union pacific let these people stay.. the tracks are out of the way- but still less remote than the Bulb= they could have their camps and shanty town without harassing the public …

  • Haley Keltner

    I am posting my comment from another Daily Cal article here because it is relevant, and I am an advocate for the homeless. Here’s the other article: http://www.dailycal.org/2014/07/25/ucpd-enforces-illegal-lodging-curfew-rules-campus/

    We need to remind ourselves of the history of People’s Park, and of Berkeley…
    People’s Park has historically been a place that STUDENTS come to hang out, get away, do whatever, and it was street kids, the sleeping poor, AND students for which this place has historically been a haven. I talked to a man recently that graduated from Cal in the late 1970’s, and he said that if a parent couldn’t find their college student, they knew to go to People’s Park. This has been a place of peace and congregation for the homeless and students alike.

    Having talked to many clients that are homeless, I’ve learned that THEY are the one’s most subjected to violence, assaults, rapes, and undoubtedly robberies. Other homeless people aren’t always the one’s committing the acts either, often it’s gang members, or those who fail to see the value in every human life. Many have no idea what put that person in that position, they don’t know that homelessness is an issue with MANY factors, the number one cause being lack of affordable housing. So, rather than seeing them as a person worthy of respect, they mistakenly see them as incapable of accomplishment, of worthiness, so they injure and take things from them.

    If the rate of robberies by people that are homeless in fact has gone up, then we shouldn’t see the solution as kicking them out to keep ourselves safe, but we should ask ourselves why this is happening. Could it be the case that the state of homelessness in our city is getting worser by the day? Could it be the case that they have less food to eat, less hygiene supplies, less safe places to sleep? All of these factors could contribute to the contingent fact that the homeless are taking more drastic measures to meet their most basic needs. I highly doubt that many of the homeless people in our town are violent, in fact I know they’re not; I’ve conversed with many who are very caring people, all with very unique backgrounds and circumstances. If assaults do happen by the homeless, it is usually a fight between two homeless persons, where they have been instigated or have resorted to aggression because they’re so hungry, tired, and often depressed.

    I am advocating that we do something for the homeless in the city of Berkeley. This fall will be the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement, a time when students refused to have their voices silenced, and were willing to go to jail for it. Now, we’re ignoring the voices of the people in our streets that need our help. At least 130 people die on the street in Berkeley every year from the cold; their voices haven’t just been silenced, they’ve been terminated because we failed to listen. Well, now I urge us not to just use our OWN voices, but to LISTEN to other people’s voices. To listen with an open ear and an open mind, expecting the unexpected, because that is what we will hear.

    If we want to make our city a safer place, then we need to start trying to get people’s basic needs met, such as food, water, and most of all security, which means a roof over their head. The number one cause of homelessness in this country is lack of affordable housing. This means that even if every single person in the country worked reallly hard, some of them would still be sleeping outside. The stigma surrounding homelessness as being lazy, violent, stupid, or incapable, needs to be eradicated. We need to act with compassion to assist any individual with mental, emotional, or health issues they may be experiencing. I use the word ‘experiencing’ here because every state we’re in is temporary. Moreover, even if I consider myself to have a problem, temporary or permanent, I wouldn’t want to be defined by it. If I’m homeless, or I’m bipolar, or I’m depressed, it may be something that I have to deal with, just like all of use MUST eat, poop, etc., but it doesn’t make me, ME. As humans, we are capable of transformation, and we are capable of assisting others in transforming themselves. Rather than defining people by the current state they’re in, we should identify them by their hopes, dreams, values, interests, or whatever THEY prefer.

    I’m not advocating that we should try and transform people into what WE think is right, but that we should work together to see how we can best fit together, while each maintaining our unique, individual identities. In advocating for a state of transformation in someone else, we also be must be open to transforming ourselves. As I stated two paragraphs above, we must be open to hearing and doing the unexpected. As we see others transform their lives, our relationships to them will also change, which for many of us at least, changes how we see ourselves. If everyone had a place to sleep inside, we shouldn’t feel less proud of ourselves for supposedly failing to be better than other people, but we should appreciate that everyone is receiving their basic human rights. We should be proud that everyone is only trying to beat themselves, to become a better person than they were. Self-worth and self-expression for every person, encouraged and promoted by the group, is something to appreciate and be proud of.

    Some people, including myself, may be apprehensive about advocating for the unexpected. This makes them feel out of control or chaotic. But, the country we live in right now is chaos. People are malnourished, starving, and have terrible health issues because they don’t have a place to sleep inside. To try and solve this problem by kicking people out and building expensive units in the name of ‘safety’ or ‘security’ (as in feeling in control), is to induce great chaos and suffering elsewhere. This chaos and suffering will come back to us eventually, as it cannot be escaped, but only resolved or mitigated. WE MUST TRY TO RESOLVE THIS PROBLEM, NOT TRY TO ESCAPE IT.

    If we try to resolve it, the worst we can do is fail. If we don’t try to resolve it, we WILL fail. Our chance of success in this society, this city, comes only from doing something about it. So let’s do something.

    In honor of the Free Speech Movement, let’s start to listen to the voices we hadn’t previously. Then, let’s use our own voices to draw attention from others that hadn’t been listening. A voice has the power to speak, to show itself. Everyone has a voice, which means everyone has the power to speak. But if no one is listening, the voice won’t be heard.

    We all have the ability to listen, and we have the ability to use our voice to get others to listen. This is called ADVOCACY. So you golden bears, let’s start advocating. We are bright and loud and people will listen.


  • Mel Content

    How’s that “Hope and Change” coming along that Obama promised again?

    • eriksf

      Yes. I too am outraged that Obama hasn’t been spending more time on the Berkeley homeless problem along our train tracks. Incredible that he’s so distracted with airplanes being shot down, war in the Middle East, thousands of Central American children streaming over our border etc.

      • Mel Content

        Yes. I too am outraged that Obama hasn’t been spending more time on the Berkeley homeless problem along our train tracks.

        You clearly miss the point. I don’t expect the federal government to take action regarding local issues. I was just pointing out how homelessness and poverty is increasing on his watch, which may be an indication that his policies aren’t working especially well…

        Incredible that he’s so distracted with airplanes being shot down, war
        in the Middle East, thousands of Central American children streaming
        over our border etc.

        How come he’s so “distracted” but not doing anything about those situations? Seems his only real distraction these days is playing golf.

        • Lin Brand

          Oh, please. Like there weren’t any homeless before Obama. I remember when Reagan dumped all the mentally ill on the streets in California. You probably complain that the homeless get medical care under Medi-cal as an Obama “freebie”. Grow up, things are not so simple you can just blame one person.

    • Phil123e

      We need to cut off all welfare, aid, benifits, public assistance, free education etc, for illegal aliens,
      which would force them to leave on their own.
      Oppose amnesty now. Google this: NUMBERSUSA .
      Once you are registered (join us), go to the “action board”

      • Christopher Riess

        And this is why you gurgling extremists will never be taken seriously. You can chatter and jump up and down like a bunch of racist idiots. It is a free country, so go and jackass it up all you want, but don’t expect us normal folks to toss you peanuts. You are an ineffectual person, Phil. No one takes your kind seriously. You are actually a laughable coward. Did you get that, Phil? YOU ARE A LAUGHABLE COWARD. Now dance, you pathetic chimp. I command it.

        • Mel Content

          And this is why you gurgling extremists will never be taken seriously.

          Advocating enforcement of a country’s immigration laws is hardly “extreme”, given that every other nation besides the US seems to understand that they must protect their own border to ensure their own sovereignity.

          You can chatter and jump up and down like a bunch of racist idiots.

          Nothing like playing the race card when you can’t win the argument.

          • Christopher Riess

            You seem really emotional. Typical for your ilk.

          • Thorn A. Fusco

            what makes it gurgling nonsense is that it is /nonsense… illegal aliens get at best- soup kitchen food- ER and maybe a free clinic if they are desperate- school for children, yes that is the one truth in the statement. The rest is crap. Illegals dont get welfare, they hide form the govt and work off the books.. often paying taxes through a fake ss number if they are on the books… “cutting them off” wont change anything for people who arent gettign any of those benfits in the first place- meanwhile, where are the cries to go after the people who employ the illegals? //ooops/ conservatives hire them …. farmers, factory owners, restaurant chain owners.. the broke liberals arent drawing these people in…. pay an American a decent wage, pay your taxes- that’s how we gt rid of illegals.