Berkeley police arrest Nanci Armstrong-Temple on the morning of Friday, Nov. 4. Photo: Paul Kealoha-Blake
Berkeley police arrest Nanci Armstrong-Temple on the morning of Friday, Nov. 4. Photo: Paul Kealoha-Blake

Early Friday morning, Berkeley police dismantled an encampment that had been set up on Adeline Street to protest the way the city provides homeless services.

A contingent of police officers came to the intersection of Adeline and Fairview around 5 a.m. and forced the 30 or so people sleeping on the pavement to get up and out.

The nature of the interaction is in dispute, with many homeless people saying they were rousted without warning, manhandled, even injured, and their stuff was thrown indiscriminately into the back of a truck. A city spokesman disagreed with that characterization and said the encampment had received two previous warnings to pack up and leave, and that police were respectful. In addition, said Matthai Chakko, the tents, blankets, sleeping bags and other belongings that were collected were bagged and tagged. The city’s homeless outreach worker was on the scene to help facilitate a return of those items to their owners, he said.

Following the early-morning incident, Berkeley Police issued a Nixle alert around 12:20 p.m. to say there was “a civic demonstration in the area of northbound MLK north of Ashby.” They advised motorists to use caution.

Four people were arrested Friday morning. (See below for details)  Nanci Armstrong-Temple, who is running for City Council in District 2, appears to be one of those who was taken into custody. She came to the scene shortly after the raid commenced, part of a group of allies of the homeless who are contacted via an e-tree or phone tree when an action is imminent, according to Mike Lee, who is running for mayor.

“They were slamming women to the ground,” said Mike Zint, an activist who was one of the leaders of Liberty City, an encampment set up in front of Old City Hall. “It’s horrible what they did. They specifically targeted Nanci. Also Andrea Prichett.” (Prichett is a founding member of Copwatch.)

City workers cleaned up a former homeless encampment on Friday, put up fencing and prepared to do planting. Photo: Ted Friedman

A video put up on the Facebook page of “First They Came for the Homeless” shows Armstrong-Temple lying on the ground. Her arms are behind her and a police officer is trying to put on restraints. She complains that they are twisting her arms in a painful way.

“I am not resisting,” Armstrong-Temple said numerous times. “You are trying to break my arm. You are twisting my arm.”

The woman taking the video, Melissa Dewey, can then be heard chanting: “This is what brutality looks like.”

The city and this group of unhoused individuals have been locked in a battle for a few years now, though this particular protest camp began in early October and has been moving around South Berkeley since then in response to enforcement by the city.

Lee, Zint and others believe they are capable of governing and policing themselves and want Berkeley to allow them to live peacefully on a plot of land. They have asked for Berkeley to provide them with toilets and showers, have pledged to ban drugs and said the police could check in daily. But essentially they want to be left alone.

Members of the Berkeley City Council have been looking at finding some land for this group to stay on semi-permanently but just this week decided against it. An ad hoc committee of the City Council had gathered information on how to establish a site and had even considered Aquatic Park, but decided it was not feasible.

A number of those rousted from their tents Friday morning remained near The Hub after the police kicked them out of their encampment. Mike Lee, a candidate for mayor, is in the center. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

“We’ve all been struggling for a very long time on how to meet the needs of our homeless persons,” City Councilwoman Linda Maio said at the meeting.

Added Mayor Tom Bates: “This is an ongoing and difficult problem. We want to be humane, we want to treat people with respect.”

The decision not to facilitate an outdoor homeless encampment so infuriated Lee that he started to yell at the council.

“These are lies,” said Lee. “Damn, dirty lies. Are you willing to leave us alone until we figure out a solution?… Stop chasing us.”

The homeless camp on Adeline Street, photographed on Oct. 24. Photo: Ted Friedman

The council did agree to look for a building in which people without homes could set up tents. There is a shortage of beds in Berkeley. The city’s temporary winter homeless center was destroyed when the First Congregational Church burned down. The city is looking now to find new shelters, said Chakko.

City staff believes it is better for people to stay inside during the winter rather than camp in the elements.

“Having people indoors is a much safer way to be,” said Chakko. “Staff is working to expand our shelter capacity and get people indoors.” He suggested the Adeline camp was a health hazard too, with evidence of human feces there.

Another issue is the new way Berkeley is approaching helping those without homes. Earlier this year the city instituted a centralized intake system called The Hub at 1901 Fairview, right next to where the homeless had set up their latest camp. (They later moved the camp to the median on Adeline.)

Previously someone looking for a bed or for help could go to different agencies; now they must start at the Hub.

The homeless camp on Adeline Street, photographed on Oct. 24. Photo: Ted Friedman

The city is also emphasizing helping the neediest first: those who are chronically homeless, disabled or have mental health issues, said Chakko. Consequently, some people who might have previously gotten quick help have to wait a long time, he said. But many of the individuals who have been part of the protest camp, according to Hub staff, are eligible for at least some services.

Lee, Zint and others are critical of The Hub. They say people wait a long time for help, are turned away and aren’t even allowed to use the bathroom.

The center has a $1.1 million annual budget for the current fiscal year. Since January, staff say 30 people have gotten hooked up with permanent housing, another eight have gotten vouchers for housing, 15 have been placed into transitional housing, and 54 have been referred to the county’s housing intake process.

There are 183 people on the center’s list of those who have met the criteria for being high need, and more than 70 of those are receiving case management services, said Sharon Hawkins Leyden, director of client services for Berkeley Food & Housing.

“It’s working,” she said in early October. “It’s not working for everyone.”

While Berkeley broke up the “Snub the Hub” encampment Friday, activists vowed to set up another.

“To evict these encampments doesn’t mean homelessness comes to an end,” said Mike Wilson, an ally of the effort. “These tent communities will not disappear. They will relocate somewhere else so it will be a continual cat-and-mouse game.”

In the video below, mayoral candidate Mike Lee explains his positions and what he says happened Friday morning.

Update: 2:15. Jovan Grogan, the assistant city manager sent a memo to the City Council today with information about who was arrested. An excerpt is below.

Four arrests were made this morning:

  • Shortly after staff arrival on scene, a male emerged from a tent, and using a bullhorn, attempted to incite others.  He was taken into custody.  Ultimately he threatened to kill himself, and was committed per 5150 (Welfare and Institutions Code).  An out-of-custody complaint may be sought for violation of 148 PC.
  • While he was being arrested, a woman subsequently identified as Michelle Lot, 48, of Oakland, claimed to be the above arrestee’s mother, and began interfering with officers who had custody of the above arrestee.  She was arrested for violation of 148 PC.  Ms. Lot was booked into Santa Rita Jail.
  • Some period later, a woman, subsequently identified as Barbara Brust, 65, of Berkeley, arrived on scene.  She obtained a bullhorn and began to incite others. She refused several verbal requests to stop her conduct.  She did not comply with officers’ requests, and was arrested for violation of 148 PC.  During a struggle, she ended up on the ground.  Officers ultimately carried her to a transport van.  Ms. Brust was cited and released at the scene.
  • Another woman, subsequently identified as Nanci Armstrong-Temple, 51, of Berkeley, immediately began to interfere with officers who were moving Ms. Brust.  Officers spent several minutes attempting to get her to stop her actions (e.g. blocking the path to a transport van).  She was ultimately handcuffed and taken into custody.  Ms. Armstrong-Temple continued to refuse to comply with directions while in custody and was ultimately transported to Santa Rita Jail.

A statement from Armstong-Temple’s campaign said that the 51-year-old was injured during her arrest. It said that her supporters believe she could be charged with lynching. The statement said Armstrong-Temple had been trying to assist Brust when police arrested her.

Armstong-Temple has been a constant, supportive presence at the encampment.

“Nanci visits these neighbors frequently, providing support to them in the form of the kind of neighborly care offered to people who live next door – careful listening, sharing stories, telling jokes, and even bringing broth to the ones who aren’t feeling well,” according to the statement.

“Organizers, campaign staff and supporters are calling for the immediate release of Armstrong-Temple and asking for community support” according to the statement.

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...