Berkeley allows homeless to remain under Gilman Street overpass

Alvin Wu/Staff

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On Wednesday, the city of Berkeley moved to terminate a public nuisance notice that would have removed the possessions of a group of people living under the Gilman Street overpass, many of whom had to leave a homeless encampment in the adjacent town of Albany.

About seven to 10 people moved to the overpass in the wake of Albany’s efforts to move the population who called the Albany Bulb — a landmass north of the Berkeley Marina — home. The Bulb served as a sanctuary to the homeless since the early 1990s, but that started to change in October when the Albany City Council began enforcing a no-camping ordinance as part of a plan to convert the city-owned area into a state park.

Berkeley issued a public nuisance notice June 10 that cited complaints such as an accumulation of food waste, debris and human and animal waste at the overpass. The notice would have removed all personal belongings from the site by June 21, but action was delayed to July 15 and then reversed.

According to a city notice, the decision was reversed Wednesday based on reports by the East Bay Community Law Center that the occupants are actively working with a number of city agencies to relocate and need more time to make relocation arrangements.

Osha Neumann, a lawyer at the center who has worked with the residents of the Bulb for years, said he supported the decision to allow the occupants of the Gilman overpass to stay for the time being but worried about a part of the termination notice that said the city could still take action against the encampment “without further notice.”

He said he hopes the city will provide sanitation receptacles to the encampment to clear up the site and that agencies such as the Berkeley Homeless Action Center and the Berkeley Food and Housing Project are committed to connecting the occupants to housing and other services.

Despite the efforts of the agencies, some remain homeless. Eddie, a resident of the Bulb for more than five years, said living at the Gilman overpass does not compare to living at the Bulb.

“It was more than somewhere to stay. There was a community down there,” he said. “Here, it’s just noisy and cramped.”

Tom Barnett, who has been living at the overpass for three months and lived at the Bulb previously, said he likes the two locations about the same and just wants to find somewhere to stay with long-term security.

“I know I’ll have to move soon, but I am glad I don’t have to yet because I would only manage to stay in housing two or three months with the money I’ve got,” Barnett said. “In a couple more months, I think I could get housing and make it work long term.”

Albany’s eviction of the population at the Bulb led to a lawsuit claiming that Albany did not provide appropriate temporary shelters. The suit ended in April with a $3,000 settlement offered to each of 28 Bulb residents in exchange for his or her evacuation.

Albany has contracted with the Berkeley Food and Housing Project to connect homeless people with housing and other services. So far the project has been able to find housing for 26 people and also provides services such as case managers and employment support, said Jaclyn Grant, program manager of the Multi-Service Center at the Food and Housing Project.

More than just finding housing for the former residents of the Bulb, she said, the project aims to provide long-term support.

“The goal is not just to work with people who have been chronically homeless now but to continue to provide support so they can sustain their housing,” Grant said.

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