Mike Lee of First They Came for the Homeless group, sitting beside the site of the camp that was cleared by the city on Dec. 2.2016. Photo: Tracey Taylor

The city cleared out a homeless encampment that had set up just north of City Hall Friday at around 5:15 a.m. The move came the day after the city said feces were spread, over a period of 24 hours, at various places  on or near City Hall. The city also reported problematic behavior from campers including public masturbation and offensive chalk messages on the sidewalks.

According to Mike Lee, part of the First They Came for the Homeless group and former candidate for Berkeley mayor, about 20 police officers raided the camp, which Lee estimated was about 20-strong and included disabled people. Lee said officers were accompanied by the city’s code enforcement manager Greg Daniel and Assistant City Manager Jim Hynes.

City Manager Dee Willams-Ridley said staff removed “12 cubic yards of garbage, food, end caps of needles, mildewed or soiled fabric, broken chairs, and other debris.” “People who were staying on the grass were given time to collect their belongings,” she wrote in a statement released after Berkeleyside asked for comment. “There were no arrests and no citations. Any items of value are being stored at the Transfer Station and are available to be reclaimed.” She said city staff and a city homeless outreach worker from the Mental Health Division had been visiting this group for several weeks to offer resources.

Read more about homelessness in Berkeley, including Berkeleyside’s award-winning SF Homeless Project coverage.

This is not the first time the largely same group of homeless people has been asked to leave a camp on public property. There have been several similar raids over the past two months.

By Friday lunchtime, some of the campers had set up on the sidewalk across from the former camp, on the corner of Center and Milvia streets.

A small group of homeless people congregates on the corner of Milvia and Center Street on Dec. 2, 2016. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Lee said he was furious, as Berkeley’s newly elected mayor, Jesse Arreguín, had assured homeless leaders that he would stop such raids from happening and would be an advocate for the homeless.

“The raid came on the heels of reassurances from Jesse Arreguín yesterday,” lee said. “We want two things: a public admission of the city action, and the raids to stop.”

Dan McMullan, commissioner on the Health and Human Welfare and Community Action group, said he had spoken to City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley who said the city was “following policies.”

Jacquelyn McCormick, senior advisor to Arreguín, said the mayor was not aware the raid was going to happen.

“We were as surprised as [the homeless campers] were,” she said.

Both Arreguín and McCormick had been to the camp Thursday evening to talk to the campers, she said. They asked the campers if they would consider removing some chalk writing on the sidewalk adjacent to the camp which advocated suicide (see images below). McCormick said they were concerned about these types of messages, particularly given the proximity of Berkeley High School, which is one block away.

McCormick said homelessness, and providing the homeless with “wraparound” services, was one of the mayor’s “highest priorities.” She added that, until existing ordinances are changed, there is little the mayor can do about actions such as clearing out people camping on public property.

Arreguín is bringing a number of proposals to the City Council on Dec. 13 relating to homelessness. They will include, said McCormick, a recommendation to “allow camping in designated areas.” The locations of those areas have yet to be determined, she said. However Arreguín said earlier this week that the city planned to find a spot that would not impact businesses or neighbors.

In an interview with Berkeleyside shortly after he was elected mayor, Arreguin said he was adamant that another homeless encampment, that had been directly opposite Berkeley High School, could not stay. He said: “I am getting many complaints from parents about having it next to the high school,” he said. “It cannot stay there. It has to go.”

In her statement, Williams-Ridley catalogued a number of “problematic behaviors” that she said had occurred during the past 72 hours, including feces spread across the back walkway and back gate of City Hall; a door handle and door glass smeared with feces; a repetition of feces on the front door, door handle, and door glass after it had been cleaned up; a bathroom smeared with feces; a heating furnace at the Veterans Building covered in excrement; members of the camp masturbating and engaging in sexual behavior at the site; suicide-related messages and swastikas drawn in chalk on the sidewalk. And she said a member of the encampment had previously called an African-American civilian city employee the “n” word. Read the full statement.

Photo: City of Berkeley
Photo: City of Berkeley
Photo: City of Berkeley

Lee said he couldn’t comment on who might be responsible for the feces on the city buildings, but that his ‘security team’ had “resolved” it. He said the First They Came group was self-governing and had committed to the city to manage to issues such as behavior and trash.

McCormick said homeless leader Mike Zint had told her the campers were not responsible for the several instances of feces. All were cleaned up by public works crews. McCormick said the city is trying to find surveillance video footage that might show who is responsible.

Arreguín’s Dec. 13 proposals also include shifting funds once designated for lockers for the homeless to various social service agencies and projects. A draft of the proposals includes a recommendation that funds be allocated to several groups, including First They Came for the Homeless, Youth Spirit Artworks, and the Berkeley Drop-in Center.

Ed: A correction was made to this story after publication: in his Nov. 15 interview with Berkeleyside Mayor Jesse Arreguín was talking about another homeless camp, not the one that is the subject of this story.

‘Fuck the Police’ and other messages written with chalk on the Milvia sidewalk near where a group of homeless people had congregated following a raid on a nearby camp, on Dec. 2, 2016. Photo: Tracey Taylor
‘Fuck the Police’ and other messages written with chalk on the Milvia sidewalk near where a group of homeless people had congregated following a raid on a nearby camp, on Dec. 2, 2016. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Homeless encampment moved from Civic Center steps to corner across from BHS (11.07.16)
Police roust Berkeley homeless encampment; activists vow to return (11.04.16)
Berkeleyside wins award for homelessness coverage (10.25.16)
Protesters criticize Berkeley homeless services center (10.07.16)

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...