Federal judge temporarily blocks BART from evicting Berkeley homeless encampment

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A federal judge today temporarily blocked BART from evicting a prominent homeless encampment on their property in Berkeley at the Oakland border. 

There are two homeless encampments near where Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Adeline Street and Stanford Avenue meet. On Saturday, BART Police issued a 72-hour eviction notice at this camp and at a second camp on the east side of the tracks, near 63rd Street and MLK. Several homeless people then filed a temporary restraining order.

The encampment, has been at its location for most of this year. Activists are fighting to keep the encampment intact. It even has solar power. Its residents recycle and compost and there's wheelchair access. 

"We've been called the model camp by people walking by, by police, that we're a model camp," said Jay Demello, a resident. 

On Tuesday, Judge William Alsup issued an order blocking BART from evicting the first-mentioned, so-called "Here There" camp for a week until the next hearing. The large camp has been at the iconic "Here" and "There" signs marking the Berkeley-Oakland border since mid-January, according to homelessness activist J.P. Massar. The camp is very visible to traffic entering Berkeley from Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Adeline Streets.

Now dubbed "the Poor Tour," the camp grew out of a blend of homeless assistance and activism that started last year, when camps were initially established in the area of the Berkeley Bowl grocery store and the
city's central coordinating office for homeless services called the Hub at 1901 Fairview St.

At the time, participants said they were protesting the city's system for allocating aid to homeless people, calling it disorganized and difficult.

The city of Berkeley raided the camp at several locations last year, at one point even arresting City Council candidate Nanci Armstrong-Temple and 70-year-old activist Barbara Brust. But since moving to the border signs along the BART tracks, the camp's residents have been able to camp mostly unimpeded.

The long-term status of both camps is unclear with people living at them saying it's unfair that BART wants to kick them out. 

In a video posted by homeless advocate Mike Zint on Saturday, a BART police officer serving an eviction notice said BART didn't realize that it was BART property and that the transit agency had a memorandum of
understanding with the city of Berkeley to maintain it, but the city asked BART to remove the campers.

"They didn't come to talk to us. They just all of a sudden came and...BART police, storming through here and posting all these signs and putting these notices everywhere," said Rachael Kuebler, another resident. 

According to Massar, the group, which includes activists in the First They Came For the Homeless organization, has established a short list of rules for the camp, like forbidding drugs and keeping noise curfew hours and also recently added a porta-potty and hand washing station. Massar said there are about 25 people living there.

Massar wrote in an open letter to BART directors Rebecca Saltzman and Lateefah Simon, who represent Berkeley, that the community there is peaceful and law-abiding.

"This is cruel; this is inhumane; this is despicable. I implore you to stop it," Massar wrote. "These people have no place to go. There are no excess shelter beds in Berkeley. I know you are acutely aware of the extreme housing shortage in the Bay, and the desperate plight of homeless people as a result."

Activists initially called for an "eviction resistance party" before the judge's ruling to begin at the spot on Tuesday evening and go "as long as necessary."

Residents at the "Here There" camp have complained about the other camp, where a woman died from undetermined causes earlier this month. Last week there was a hammer attack. Two preschools are nearby. 

BART did not return a request to comment and declined to comment on this story on Monday and Tuesday. 

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin says neighbors have complained about the other camp near 63rd and MLK and said that camp could still face eviction. 

"There's been violence, there's been health and safety issues, you know. People have been using drugs. It's not acceptable. It has devolved into a situation that is dangerous for the community," said the mayor. 

"I see both sides of the story," said Berkeley resident Amie Zemlicka. "I understand the housing crisis, but I also support the eviction because it really is a well-used piece of public property." 

"When it just catches their eye, 'Oh no, another homeless camp, another filthy group of drug addicts.'" Demello said. "That is not us. We invite anybody to come in for 2, 3, 4 days a week and come and stay with us tent up with us and see what we're like." 

KTVU did not see any open drug use at the Here There camp. People we spoke to said they're staying put, despite the eviction notice and that they're not leaving until BART comes to take their stuff away.