Homeless encampment at Old City Hall dismantled; 1 person arrested

Jenna Wong/Staff

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Berkeley officials dismantled an encampment in front of Old City Hall early Thursday morning, following a “debris” fire that occurred Tuesday.

The encampment was on the grounds of Old City Hall for three months after being removed from their former location on BART property near the Here There sculpture. Notices asking members to collect their property and vacate the area were posted around the Old City Hall encampment Wednesday morning.

Members of the encampment were awakened Thursday when city officials arrived at 5 a.m. and began the process of dismantling it. BPD spokesperson Sgt. Andrew Frankel said officers arrived early in the morning and asked the encampment residents to leave and that they did so. The dismantling lasted until 8:30 a.m.

Nanci Armstrong-Temple, a former City Council candidate, was arrested at the scene for allegedly “obstructing a police officer in the performance of their duties,” Frankel said. She was cited and released as of 8:34 a.m., according to her Twitter feed.

According to Frankel, the encampment was dismantled as a result of numerous health and safety issues including exposed human feces and urine as well as food left out, which created a potential for pests. The “debris” fire Tuesday, which caused outward damage to Old City Hall, prompted the move to dismantle the encampment, Frankel said.

BPD was not able to comment on the status of William Edwards, who was arrested in connection with the fire on Tuesday. Mike Zint, founder of First They Came for the Homeless, or FTCftH, said Edwards was not affiliated with their encampment.

FTCftH encampments have been disbanded by the city numerous times over the past few years. Zint said these repeated disbandments hurt the progress of those members of the encampment recovering from addiction, who must then relocate. FTCftH has filed a lawsuit against the city of Berkeley for allegedly punishing and silencing the group for criticizing city policy in the midst of these evictions.

“We just want cooperation, honesty and respect,” Zint said. “We want to be treated like any other person.”

According to Councilmember Kate Harrison, the ad hoc committee on homelessness is working on legislation that will specify the terms of urgent versus non-urgent health and safety violations and provide adequate notice for encampments to evacuate.

“I would like to see us work on a tent city organized under the city (that will provide) services, because we don’t have enough housing,” Harrison said.

Zint said the residents of the encampment at Old City Hall have since split up into two other encampments in Berkeley.

“A lot more people could be finding themselves in this same situation and we’re not prepared to deal with it,” said Councilmember Cheryl Davila, who was at the scene Thursday morning. “We need to come up with alternative ways to deal with these relevant issues facing us.”

Contact Amanda Bradford at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @amandabrad_uc.