City installs fence along Gilman homeless encampment

Karen Chow/Staff

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The city of Berkeley installed fencing on Gilman Street on Thursday, restricting access to an area that has been occupied by a large homeless population since 2014.

Fencing was installed in small regions along Gilman Street and the Eastshore Freeway, where the encampment had formed. Since the area under the freeway is managed by Caltrain, the parts of the encampment occupying this space was left untouched, said Sean Tinney, a Berkeley Police Department area coordinator.

According to Tinney, fliers were given out Tuesday and Wednesday notifying the homeless population of plans to disband the encampment. When authorities arrived Thursday, the area was filled with “mainly a lot of property, garbage, needles and rotting food,” Tinney said, adding that the homeless took with them whatever property they chose and remaining belongings were disposed.

The Berkeley’s city manager’s office was responsible for the installation while Berkeley Police officers were present to keep the peace. There were only half a dozen members of the encampment still there when the fence was erected, according to Tinney, as most had left the area after receiving fliers earlier in the week.

The removal was carried out peacefully, according to Tinney. The BPD issued three citations, but no arrests were made. Berkeley police are not currently patrolling the area, as Tinney said “there is simply no need” to place additional police force in the area.

In June, the city cleared the encampment, deploying environmental health staff, homeless outreach workers, city maintenance crews and mental health workers on-site to assist the cleanup process.

Local residents and members of the homeless population alike have vocalized concern over this solution. Many are concerned that the city must address the core problem of homelessness instead of moving the homeless from one area to another.

“They seem to clean up the homeless encampment every few weeks and a few hours later they are always right back under there,” said Alex Elsinga, owner of Teak Me Home, a furniture store located on Gilman Street near the underpass. Elsinga added that he does not think this is a good long-term solution because the homeless are still left with no place to go.

Several of the homeless moved to Gilman Street after being evicted from the Albany Bulb along the shoreline in the East Bay. Mike Zint, a member of Berkeley’s homeless community, said the encampments “develop out of desperation” and will continue to form unless a change is made.

“The community wants a solution to drugs and crime and a fence is the solution the city came up with,” Zint said in an email. “A fence does not offer help to the homeless. Nor does it provide shelter to those in need. All it does is move the issue to a new location.”

Contact Simmone Shah at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @simmoneshah.