Caltrans clears Berkeley encampments

Aura Barrera/Staff

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A Berkeley homeless encampment by University Avenue and Interstate 80 was cleared Wednesday by the California Department of Transportation, or Caltrans.

According to Chiconda Davis, a Caltrans spokesperson, four locations in Berkeley have been cleared since last Wednesday. These include encampments by Gilman Street, University Avenue and Hearst Avenue, Ashby Avenue and Shellmound Street, and Hollis Street and MacArthur Boulevard. The encampment by University Avenue was cleared Wednesday, Davis said in an email.

“Homelessness is a chronic issue that requires collaboration by state and local agencies and elected officials,” Davis said in the email. “Encampments along our right of way remain a safety issue.”

According to Davis, the four encampments cleared in the past week hosted a total of 38 tents. She added that Caltrans gives residents a 72-hour notice before clearing a site to allow individuals time to gather their belongings.

Davis said in the email that Caltrans removes debris and unclaimed property from encampments. All personal property is labeled and taken to Caltrans facilities where owners have 90 days to collect their items.

“Caltrans maintenance employees work very closely with the homeless community and are empathetic to disposing of any personal belongings,” Davis said in the email.

According to city spokesperson Matthai Chakko, because the encampments are on Caltrans property, any actions taken are independent of the city.

Chakko added that despite the fact that the city was not involved with the recent encampment clearings, city officials work “every day” to connect the homeless population to services and resources in Berkeley.

According to Mike Lee, a Berkeley advocate for the homeless, spending money on clearing encampments is fiscally irresponsible and akin to a “cat and mouse game.” Lee added that once encampments are cleared, residents scatter to find a place the city will find acceptable.

“What this means is that people can’t maintain a stable environment which allows them to rebuild their lives,” Lee said in an email.

Leslie Berkler, the executive director of the Women’s Daytime Drop-in Center, said encampments are not safe or healthy.

“I would rather that we could provide inside, sanitary clean places for people to live,” Berkler said. “I would like to see a place where people can legally do encampments, where there are restrooms and everything.”

According to Berkler, the Women’s Daytime Drop-in Center provides a safe place for women and children to go during the day and free services such as meals, counseling and several educational programs.

Berkler added that although the center does not usually receive many clients from encampments they may receive a few from the recent closures.

“The whole service community and homeless community is affected every time there’s a change,” Berkler said.

Contact Maya Akkaraju at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @maya_akkaraju.