Caltrans pays $1.3M in settlements to homeless campers for property loss

Exterior shot of a Homeless Encampment in Berkeley, California.
CieCie Chen/File
A class-action lawsuit requires Caltrans to issue a notice in advance to vacate encampment areas as well as to reimburse homeless people who had their properties taken or destroyed by the agency.

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People who had their properties taken or destroyed by Caltrans are eligible to file for a reimbursement claim, as first reported by Oaklandside.

A class-action lawsuit, filed in 2016, reached a settlement that set aside $1.3 million for homeless people who had their properties destroyed between December 2014 and October 2019 as well as required Caltrans to adopt procedures for encampment cleanups. Caltrans did not respond to a request for comment as of press time.

“People who had things wrongly taken by a governmental entity are going to be compensated and the settlement recognizes that what was done to them was wrong,said Osha Neumann, director of East Bay Community Law Center’s homelessness service.

To file a claim, Neumann suggested that people contact the Homeless Action Center offices in Oakland and in Berkeley as soon as possible for assistance. Those eligible will have until Oct. 16 to file a reimbursement claim.

Neumann alleged that, prior to the lawsuit, Caltrans either failed to inform people of the exact date of encampment sweeps or didn’t give people enough time to collect their belongings, which meant campers were often not present.

“This was devastating for people,” Neumann said. “For many people they lost things of real monetary value, but for many others they lost things of emotional value.”

Some of the items lost include family heirlooms, photographs of parents who had died or gifts that were given by relatives who had passed, Neumann said.

Per the settlement, Caltrans must now issue a notice in advance to vacate an encampment area. The notice will include a phone number people can contact to collect items taken and stored by the agency.

In addition to property compensation, Caltrans will be required to pay $700,000 to the Homeless Action Center, which will, among other things, provide outreach to help people who have experienced losses caused by Caltrans, according to Neumann.

Neumann says there have been changes in Caltrans’ behavior since the settlement; for example, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, campers are now allowed to remain on Caltrans property.

“We are hoping that both Caltrans and Berkeley realizes that if they can’t get people into housing, they at least have to allow them to have those communities and learn to help them make those communities as safe and healthy as possible,” Neumann said.

With the ongoing pandemic, putting people in congregate areas such as shelters will only allow the disease to spread, Neumann added. Instead, there needs to be a solution that gets people into permanent housing or allows them to remain where they are, according to Neumann.

Contact Zoe Chen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @zoe_chen820.