Encampment residents at Harrison and Eighth Street were granted a temporary restraining order against the city of Berkeley on Sept. 5, momentarily preventing the city from clearing the encampment.
The court will hear a motion for a preliminary injunction, which would stop the city from sweeping the encampment Sept. 27 according to court documents.
The plaintiff, Yesica Prado, a journalist and resident on Harrison and Eighth Street, alleged that the city failed to provide adequate accommodations and services for people with disabilities for the intended Sept. 4 sweep, which fell over Labor Day weekend, when many city services such as storage and housing services were closed.
In a complaint filed by Prado and other plaintiffs, the city allegedly forced residents to give up their personal property in order to qualify for housing, and offered housing that came with “restrictive rules,” making it inaccessible to those with mental health needs.
“The potential loss of personal property, community, and safety, particularly in the absence of access to resources and services is an irreparable harm,” the restraining order reads. “It is in the public interest that members of the community, including the unhoused, are not endangered or parted from their homes and community without cause.”
After an Aug. 23 site visit by the city’s environmental health division and the fire department, the city posted Sept. 1 that it would carry out an emergency abatement, or encampment sweep, due to “significant health and safety hazards,” according to the public notice.
The notice cited excessive garbage, sewage, unsafe structures, loose syringes and road obstructions as reasons for the sweep.
Encampment resident Alhondro Myers noted that a portion of the encampment consisting of piles of trash covered by tarp is commonly referred to by residents as the “hovel.” He says such accumulation has contributed additional issues like rat infestations and disease transmissions.
The long-standing encampment was first cleared back in October 2022, creating rifts between unhoused residents and city officials. In an effort to mitigate health concerns and road hazards, city manager Peter Radu presented residents with “Good Neighbor Guidelines.”
The guidelines asked residents to throw away trash, keep their belongings off the road, limit flammable materials, stay on one side of the sidewalk and avoid building “dangerous” structures.
“I definitely feel [Radu]’s using the Good Neighbor Guidelines against us — he came to us with those rules knowing people would break them,” Prado said. “People are unable to comply because of disabilities and mental health needs. If you ask my neighbors, we help people clean stuff because they can’t do it on their own.”
Radu declined to comment on active legal proceedings.
Melissa Riess, a senior staff attorney at Disability Rights Advocates, further noted that while the restraining order specifically addressed imminent concerns like the accessibility of city services over the Labor Day weekend, residents also face issues with alternative housing.
Back in June, in an effort to provide housing and services to accommodate encampment residents, the city of Berkeley purchased and converted a Super 8 motel into “low barrier” permanent housing. The motel was renamed as the Campus Motel.
According to housing bill AB 101, low-barrier housing has fewer requirements for entry that differ depending on the housing site.
Prado alleges that the Campus Motel, consisting of 23 units, did not contain enough space to accommodate the over 50 residents of Eighth and Harrison who would have been displaced by the sweep.
Myers said while he has accepted the Campus Motel alternative housing offer, stringent rules that do not allow visitors of any kind have made him feel isolated — he often returns to his tent on Eighth Street to reconnect with the community.
“There’s no room visiting [at the Campus Motel],” Myers said. “People need human contact … I go around my friends and realize I’m not the only person in the world.”