Homeless activists respond to Berkeley homeless encampment cleanup

photo of Gavin Newsom giving a speech
Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons
Photo by Gage Skidmore under CC BY-SA 2.0 About a month before Gavin Newsom’s recall election Sept. 14, the California governor held a cleanup at what he referred to as an “unacceptable and unsafe” Berkeley homeless encampment. Newsom’s approaches to alleviate city homelessness, including homeless sweeps and “(un)substantial changes” in low-income and no-income housing, have since faced growing criticism from local homeless activists, who have also called Newsom's recent cleanup a bid for publicity rather than a genuine effort to support Berkeley's homeless.

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom held a cleanup at a Berkeley homeless encampment Monday. The cleanup comes just more than a month before the governor’s recall election Sept. 14.

Newsom posted images of the cleanup to Twitter during the event, in which he can be seen throwing away a bicycle wheel and a speaker.

“California is moving folks out of encampments, into safe housing and getting them the mental health services they need,” Newsom said in the tweet. “The conditions at this site in Berkeley are unacceptable and unsafe.”

Many homeless activists in Berkeley reacted negatively to both the cleanup and Newsom’s legislative policies about homelessness.

Ian Cordova Morales, president of Where Do We Go? Berkeley, a nonprofit organization dedicated to combating homelessness, said in an email that the organization was “deeply disturbed” by Newsom’s cleanup and saw it as “just a photo op” for the governor.

“He attempted to mislead people by implying that housing and mental health services had been offered to the people living there when in fact, before he arrived there was several people still living there and they were scrambling to grab their possessions in the 30 minutes CHP gave them,” Morales alleged in the email.

Morales added that Newsom also commented on the “unacceptable” living conditions in the encampment, but he didn’t take into consideration that the conditions were due to the monthly cleaning program ending two months earlier in response to its organizers learning about the upcoming sweep. This oversight added “insult to injury,” Morales said in the email.

Morales also said the organization was “generally dissatisfied” with Newsom’s approach to the homelessness crisis, citing the billions of dollars the state spends to remove people from homeless sites.

Aidan Hill, a former Berkeley City Council candidate, said they had not seen a substantial change in the amount of low-income or no-income housing in Berkeley. Hill added that those who had been living at the encampment prior to Newsom’s arrival were not given shelter through motel vouchers or other temporary housing by the state.

“There isn’t actual housing available for the need of the homeless population in Berkeley, and that’s not even including the low-income renters such as myself,” Hill said.

Hill also expressed concerns about the end of the COVID-19 eviction moratorium, predicting that people would be “evicted en masse.”

Hill echoed Morales’ belief that the governor was only present in Berkeley for a photo shoot.

“It’s a publicity shoot, he didn’t need to show up there, he could’ve let the California Department of Transportation do its job,” Hill said. “But he’s very much afraid of the recall efforts … he’s a candidate with a lot of controversies.”

Contact Christopher Ying at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @ChrisYingg.