Amid growing pressure from the community, the city of Berkeley together with Caltrans and California Highway Patrol cleared the homeless encampment on Gilman Street near Interstate 80 on Thursday.
The Gilman Street homeless encampment hosted more than a dozen tents belonging to homeless people since 2014. An estimated 30 homeless people were at the encampment when city workers began clearing the area Thursday morning.
“We have a regional problem, and it’s going to take regional cooperation instead of kicking the people from one encampment to another, destroying their property and rendering (them) more destitute than they are,” said Berkeley City Councilmember Max Anderson, adding that the city should find a solution that addresses the “core problem” of homelessness.
During the cleanup, city workers cleared mounds of homeless people’s belongings. Environmental health staff, homeless outreach workers, city maintenance crews and mental health workers were also on-site to assist the cleanup process.
“It looks like a complete dump when you get off the Gilman Street,” said Alex Elsinga, owner of Teak Me Home, a business located one block away from the encampment. “You find syringes and garbage — it’s terrible.”
Elsinga said people do not want to walk past the area his business is located in because of the trash and the risk it poses, which drives business away from his store.
Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol routinely clean up Gilman Street along with other homeless encampments every two to three weeks depending on other demands. Elsinga said homeless people usually return shortly after being evicted and have already begun to return again.
“If the city did something about it yesterday, you would have no idea anyone did anything today,” Elsinga said.
Many of the homeless people residing in the Gilman encampment moved there after they were evicted from the Albany Bulb along the shoreline in the East Bay. After settling on Gilman Street, authorities built a fence to limit access to the area underneath the freeway, leading to homeless people moving their belongings onto the sidewalk.
According to Oakland-area Highway Patrol spokesperson Officer Sean Wilkenfeld, the homeless residents were cooperative for the most part. He said no arrests were made, no citations were given and most people were compliant.
Wilkenfeld added, however, that the homeless encampment does host dangerous individuals.
“We’ve had aggressive subjects there,” Wilkenfeld said. “There are drugs and people with warrants living in the encampment. There are definitely safety concerns.”
Guy “Mike” Lee, a member of Berkeley’s homeless community, said the city is just moving the problem back every few weeks, adding that the city lacks the political will to address problems facing homeless people.
“This is an election year, and there have been several problems with this encampment,” Lee said. “It’s an ongoing problem that they can’t seem to solve because the city lacks any sort of strategic planning on how they deal with homeless.”