South Berkeley homeless camp earns temporary reprieve from BART eviction

A temporary restraining order buys the “Here There” camp one more week, but its neighbor camp on the same plot of land could be evicted tonight.

BART put up trespassing notices at the “Poor Tour” camp on Adeline on Saturday, but the group was granted a temporary restraining order against the agency Tuesday. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

One of the homeless encampments near the Berkeley-Oakland border can stay put for at least another week, a federal judge ruled Tuesday, granting the campers a temporary restraining order (TRO) against BART, which had ordered the group to disperse.

BART owns the land at Adeline and 63rd streets, and on Saturday put up trespassing notices around the two homeless encampments that occupy the plot, giving residents 72 hours to clear out. One camp, which has called itself the “Poor Tour” and “First They Came for the Homeless,” has been on the west side of the land near the “Here There” sculpture since early 2017. Another newer camp is located on the east side of the BART tracks adjacent to a residential neighborhood.

Three members of the “Here There” camp filed for the TRO in federal court in San Francisco on Monday, asking for protection from eviction and arrest.

“If plaintiffs are forced to move, homeless people who have no alternate shelter would be forced into the elements without shelter, causing irreparable injury,” encampment members wrote in their complaint. They asked the judge to create an “arrest free zone” around the camp.

At an 11 a.m. hearing Tuesday, hours before the potential eviction, Judge William Alsup allowed the group some more time.

“All this does is grant them that week’s worth of relief while we and the BART attorneys more fully brief the court,” said EmilyRose Johns, a lawyer with the firm Siegel & Yee, which is representing the “Here There” camp. The plaintiffs will be back in court for a follow-up hearing Tuesday, Oct. 31.

Johns said the judge seemed “interested in hearing about this encampment that has existed differently than a lot of encampments in Berkeley.”

At right, Mike Zint, a Poor Tour founder, visited the camp Monday after the eviction notices were posted. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Since the group was assembled in 2014, Poor Tour members have viewed it as a model of self-governance and neighborliness. The camp’s leaders implemented a strict set of rules banning alcohol and drug use and requiring noise control and cleanliness. The group has long campaigned for a sanctioned encampment, but was kicked out of many different sites by the city of Berkeley before it settled at the Here There sculpture. A group of neighbors has supported the encampment, paying for a portable toilet and helping residents dispose of trash.

Since the camp was established at the Here There site, two of its founding leaders, Mike Lee and Mike Zint, moved into permanent housing. Encampment members told Berkeleyside on Monday that the camp went through a rough patch after they left. In early October, Lee publicly withdrew his support for the camp, writing on Facebook that some residents had begun using drugs and breaking other rules.

Encampment residents said those issues have now been addressed and the camp is operating smoothly again. One man said he feared losing his belongings and going back to sleeping in a doorway if BART evicts the group.

The Here There campers had planned to hold an anti-eviction protest Tuesday evening, when the 72-hour period was set to expire, but one camper said the event will have to be rebranded in light of the restraining order.

“Now it changes from a resistance to a party — a joyous celebration rather than a lockdown,” said camper Jim Squatter, one of the longtime residents who filed the injunction.

But their neighbors on the east side of the BART tracks might not be celebrating Tuesday night. The restraining order only applies to the camp by the Here There sculpture, so BART still has the authority to disband the other camp.

There are about 15 tents at the homeless encampment on the east side of the “Here There” sculpture. Photo: Emilie Raguso

The camp on the east side of the property has not generated the same community support that the Here There camp enjoys. Neighbors have complained to the city about drug use and public sex acts there. A woman was found dead at that camp earlier this month.

In a blog post on his website, Mayor Jesse Arreguín said he initially encouraged BART to evict only the camp on the east side. He wrote that he has generally supported the Poor Tour camp, but noted there have been complaints associated with that group as well. BART has not responded to numerous requests for comment.

“Ultimately BART made the decision to close both camps,” Arreguín wrote in the post, which was published before the restraining order was granted. “They have asked that Berkeley police be present to provide backup, to ensure the safety of campers and police. And while these two encampments will ultimately be moved, we remain committed to expanding access to shelter, services and housing for the homeless.”

Attorney Johns said she has no reason to believe, following the federal hearing, that BART will deviate from its plan to disband the east-side camp. Attorneys for the transit agency told the judge they have a plan in place to store any belongings campers cannot carry out with them, Johns said. They also said police have been instructed to give campers as much time as they need to clear out, which Johns said has not happened during previous Poor Tour evictions.

Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. She was previously a reporter for Berkeleyside.