Temporary restraining order halts encampment eviction in Emeryville

Photo of Ashby/Shellmound encampment
William Webster/Staff
A temporary restraining order was issued to the city of Emeryville on April 19. This preliminary injunction was filed by homeless advocacy organization Where Do We Go? Berkeley, halting the city's plans to evict residents of the Ashby/Shellmound encampment.

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The city of Emeryville was served a temporary restraining order April 19, halting its efforts to evict residents of the Ashby/Shellmound encampment in Emeryville.

Where Do We Go? Berkeley, a homeless advocacy and material support organization, filed this preliminary injunction because of its history supporting the encampment, said Andrea Henson, a litigation attorney at the Eviction Defense Center.

“The encampment has been there over two years,” Henson said. “We have eviction moratoriums for tenants — what about eviction moratoriums for those who are living in encampments?”

Emeryville, Berkeley and Caltrans all own sections of the encampment, according to Ian Cordova Morales, president and lead advocate of Where Do We Go? Berkeley.

The city of Emeryville specifically wants to evict those in the encampment to continue construction on a 186-unit luxury condominium complex on Shellmound Street, Cordova Morales said.

“In October of 2020 the City’s homeless services outreach provider began focused engagement with the individuals at that location,” said city clerk of Emeryville Sheri Hartz in an email. “Shelter beds at St. Vincent DePaul, funded by the City of Emeryville, are available for individuals relocating from this area.”

Cordova Morales, however, pointed out that Emeryville has “no meaningful relationship” with the encampment’s residents; Operation Dignity, the nonprofit the city hired to provide services, has had trouble connecting with Shellmound’s inhabitants.

The city’s notice to vacate by April 19 did not help, as it induced anxiety in many residents, according to Osha Neumann, supervising attorney at the East Bay Community Law Center. Otherwise, the city would “sweep up and dispose of” their personal property, Neumann added.

Cordova Morales and Neumann added that contacts provided on the notice were unreachable.

Henson and Neumann both alleged the city’s actions are “illegal” and “inhumane,” both constitutionally and according to current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines advising that encampments be left undisrupted to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

“The litigation will continue — it’s on,” Neumann said. “We’ll continue until Emeryville does the right thing, which will either be leaving the encampment there or finding real genuine housing … Unless there’s a real alternative, (the city) can’t do the eviction.”

The encampment has been self-sustaining and supported by advocacy organizations throughout its existence, Neumann emphasized. Henson and Neumann highlighted the “crucial” work Cordova Morales and Where Do We Go? Berkeley have done in providing essential services to the residents — including medical care, food and other supplies necessary for life without electricity or running water.

Residents were “relieved” and “thrilled” when the temporary restraining order was successful, Neumann said. Legal wins such as this one are important as they create a ripple effect of action; Henson and Neumann added that Caltrans had been contemplating another eviction but recently extended an olive branch to advocacy groups supporting the encampment.

“(This victory) is showing them that they are right — it’s not OK to do this, it’s not constitutional,” Neumann said. “Homeless people generally feel very powerless, so that fact that they feel empowered is just as important as the actual victory.”

Contact Katherine Shok at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @katherineshok.