On Saturday, a group of protesters issued a call to action against a threat to evict a homeless encampment outside the Berkeley Main Post Office, according to an email sent by Mike Wilson, a long-standing encampment supporter and organizer.
Despite the threat, which came from the United States Postal Inspection Service after a 17-month occupation of the area by protesters, the service did not raid the encampment, Wilson noted.
Protesters first assembled in November 2014 to oppose the post office’s pending sale to property management company Hudson McDonald. While the business deal collapsed in December 2014 and the post office remained a public entity, the group continued to protest the privatization of public entities across the nation, Wilson said in the email.
Wilson noted that the U.S. Postal Inspection Service is not interested in evicting the protesters themselves but in dissolving a group of nonprotesting homeless campers that also inhabit the premises.
Mike Zint, a protester who lives outside the post office, noted that the protesters help foster a sense of unity among the occupants by providing the homeless with food and other services.
“This isn’t just about saving the post office,” Zint said. “It’s about saving the larger community.”
According to Wilson’s email, the number of homeless campers outside of the post office grew substantially when Berkeley police officers began directing them to the public space over the past few months. The Berkeley Police Department was not available to comment at press time.
Augustine Ruiz Jr., a spokesperson for the United States Postal Service Bay-Valley district, said in an email that the homeless encampment was a “blight” on the post office property and that the postal district received complaints from Berkeley citizens and customers about the encampment being “unsightly and unsafe.”
Some protesters, too, had problems with the presence of the homeless encampment.
“(Homeless campers) pose a threat to the protestors who are staying there and to the image that the protest site is supposed to have for the community,” Wilson said, adding that he believed that drug use in the encampment has raised community concerns.
Representatives of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service reportedly threatened to evict the protesters “upwards of thirty times” in the first months of occupation for violating trespassing regulations, according to Wilson. Since March 2015, however, the representatives have assured the protesters that they are safe from eviction.
The group continues to assert the right of all encampment members to legally occupy the premises by resisting eviction and staying in the camp, Wilson said.
“The best strategy that we have from defending the site from affirmative eviction is to contact as many people who are sympathetic as possible and ask them to show up,” Wilson said. “We’ve learned from other protests that if there are a sufficient number of defenders, then law enforcement backs off.”
Contact Kimberly Nielsen at [email protected].