After more than two years of existence, the “Here There” encampment, described by Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín as a “well-run intentional community,” now faces the enforcement of regulations that place restrictions on residents’ use of sidewalk space.
According to temporary assistant to the city manager Kristen Lee, city staff members handed out flyers Tuesday and Wednesday to homeless residents around Berkeley — including to those of the “Here There” encampment. The flyers, first distributed in Berkeley in February, notified homeless residents that their tents are to be taken down by 7 a.m. and may only be erected at 10 p.m. each day to prevent the obstruction of sidewalks. This is in line with the sidewalk ordinance passed by the City Council in October.
The ordinance states that personal property must not exceed 9 square feet and that personal objects on residential sidewalks will be limited in commercial and manufacturing districts. According to Lee, the city only recently began outreach efforts and enforcement because of delays regarding staff implementation.
Mike Zint, a co-founder of First They Came for the Homeless, claimed in an email that the “Here There” encampment — located at Adeline and 63rd streets, next to the sidewalk between the road and the street — does not obstruct passage. Zint added that there is a 6-foot clearance throughout the way.
According to Zint, the camp has helped the city’s most vulnerable become stable.
“I designed this camp to demonstrate to the residents of Berkeley that there is a better way of doing things,” Zint said in an email. “The homeless are not addicted and mentally disabled as the press often shows. They are seniors, seriously disabled, and terminal people that have been left behind by a profit based system.”
According to city policy, the regulations are intended to protect access and safety on sidewalks and parklets for pedestrians and persons with disabilities as well as maintain aesthetically pleasing streets and commercial areas.
According to District 4 Councilmember Kate Harrison, sidewalks — as defined in the city’s ordinance — encompass curbs and grassy areas, therefore including the land upon which the “Here There” encampment is located. Harrison said, however, that confusion began when BART built a fence around the “Here There” sculpture. This move forced the homeless from BART land into the city’s jurisdiction, making them later subject to the sidewalk ordinance.
“The encampment is now in city area. I begged BART not to do that,” Harrison said. “When they are in the grass, they are not in the way.”
According to Lee, the city is “aiming for voluntary compliance” to abide by the sidewalk ordinance. She added that force will not be used, and objects will not be confiscated.
According to city policy, officers may request that objects be contained to regulation standards or be moved to another location. Failure to comply after notice may result in the removal and storage of items and a citation. Individuals must receive a 24-hour written notice of intent before items are removed.
The city offers storage lockers for the homeless to keep their possessions, Harrison said. One location is in the Veterans Memorial Building, and the city is working to open others.
Zint said many residents are physically unable to break down and rebuild their tents daily. He added that many are speaking with a lawyer about an ongoing class-action lawsuit.
“There is not much hope if you’re homeless. … There is nowhere near enough affordable housing being built. Berkeley needs to do better,” Zint said in an email. “They can cause change in cities by making humane decisions for the most vulnerable instead of representing the top.”
City News Editor Sophia Brown-Heidenreich contributed to this report.