Homeless rights activist group can sue Berkeley over encampment evictions, judge rules

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U.S. District Judge William Alsup ruled Friday that homeless rights activist group First They Came for the Homeless can sue the city of Berkeley for allegedly punishing and silencing the group for criticizing city policy, as first reported by SFGate.

The lawsuit was filed amid raids and evictions taking place at homeless encampments in Berkeley. First They Came for the Homeless founder Mike Zint alleges that the group was raided 17 times over a three-month period. He added that most raids resulted in the loss of the residents’ personal property, including his own.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington said he has routinely advocated for the city to adopt a clearer policy of labelling residents’ property during enforcements and raids, as well as giving residents more information on how to recover their materials afterwards.

One instance of eviction that the homeless population has faced was at an encampment at the Ashby BART station in South Berkeley last October. The encampment, dubbed by its residents as the “Here There” encampment, was home to about 25 people, and was divided from another unassociated encampment by BART train tracks. Several of the residents of the “Here There” encampment were members of First They Came for the Homeless and were directly impacted by BART’s decision.

“People in each of the two encampments were given 72-hours’ notice to vacate under the authority of Penal Code Section 647(e), which prohibits lodging on public property without permission of the property owner,” said BART spokesperson Jim Allison in an email.

Allison also alleged that in addition to the eviction notice, a list of available resources, including shelter, accommodations and medical services, was provided.

Despite the evictions and raids that have taken place, Zint said the approximately 60 people living in encampments in the city are currently enjoying stability and added that they have the resources to improve their conditions.

Since the lawsuit has been classified as “pending litigation,” Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín has declined to comment, according to his communications director Karina Ioffee.

Lynn Fuller, spokesperson for District Judge William Alsup, also declined to comment.

Given Judge Alsup’s recent ruling, Zint says he is enthusiastic about the success of the lawsuit, citing the extensive documentation and witnesses the group has against the city.

But for now, Zint says the next step is just to follow through with the lawsuit in hopes of victory, change and dignity.

“We will press forward,” Zint said in an email. “We hope we get the world to see our country does not allow poor people to take care of themselves.”

Contact Naira Khalid at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @nairakhalid.