Residents of the encampment at 63rd Street and MLK, Jr. Way spent a final night there Tuesday before BART evicted them. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

The Bay Area Rapid Transit District followed through on its vow to disband the homeless camp at 63rd Street and MLK, Jr. Way, evicting the remaining residents early Wednesday. Police also put up fencing around the site, which is on the east side of the BART tracks, and around the empty land south of the camp.

The homeless encampment on the west side of the tracks, near the “Here There” sculpture, was left intact. That group was granted a temporary restraining order against BART at the eleventh hour Tuesday, allowing them to stay at the site for another week. BART had put up trespassing notices around both camps Saturday, giving residents 72 hours to move out.

As BART police broke up the east-side camp shortly after 5 a.m. Wednesday, Berkeley police provided security and traffic control, said Sgt. Andrew Frankel, BPD spokesman. No arrests were made during the eviction, and all items removed from the site will be kept in storage and made available for pick-up within 45 or 90 days, depending on the value of the item, according to a BART statement.

Some of the campers had already cleared out in anticipation of the eviction by the time police arrived. By Tuesday evening, some had moved down to Aquatic Park, residents said, but others stayed at the site and waited it out.

“We started taking stuff to storage a couple days ago,” Greg Davis, a veteran who was living at the camp with his partner Antoinette for two and half months, said Tuesday evening before the eviction. “I got some knick-knacks still but I’ll throw them in a bag and throw them in the car. But some people are just not going to be housed.”

Davis, 51, said he had trouble getting back on his feet after getting out of prison and finding out his GI Bill benefits had expired and that he was not eligible for other veteran assistance. He said others at the camp were victims of rising rents.

“Next thing you know, you’re out here,” Davis said. “People should never, ever think they’re better than the houseless. Some choose this — they don’t want the responsibility of paying bills. Not me. I would like to have a place to live. I imagine myself sitting on a porch, drinking a beer, with the grandkids.”

BART police installed fencing around the former homeless camp site, and around land further south. Photo: Natalie Orenstein
Neighbor Greg Merritt said he was woken up by BART police installing fencing early Wednesday morning. He saw police at the site, and heard a helicopter around 7 a.m. Photo: Greg Merritt

Another member of the camp, Bill, said on Tuesday before the eviction that he was lucky to have a truck he slept in next to the tents. Bill, who did not want to give his last name, planned to continue parking his truck near the site after the tent-dwellers were evicted, but said he was concerned about the fate of the other campers.

“Kicking them out doesn’t solve the problem,” Bill said. He said it was unfair for the campers on the west side to advocate for themselves and get permission to stay at the site while those to the east faced eviction.

The east-side camp came to the attention of BART, which owns the land, and the city of Berkeley, which manages it, when neighbors began complaining about the campers’ behavior. At an October City Council meeting, parents and staff from AIM Montessori School, just down the street from the camp, said kids had seen campers shooting up and masturbating publicly.

BART said it received more than 50 complaints about the encampment. “Activity reported on the site included a fatal drug overdose, fires, and an assault with a deadly weapon,” according to the agency’s statement.

Early this month, a deaf mother of four who did not live at the camp was found dead in one of the tents. The tragedy heightened concerns about safety at the encampment.

There was a small memorial display for the woman, Ariana Ruiz, with flowers, a prayer candle and a bottle of wine, at the encampment before it was cleared out.

The “Here There” camp celebrates avoiding eviction

While campers east of the BART tracks were quietly awaiting eviction Tuesday evening, residents of the “Here There” camp on the other side of the tracks were celebrating their victory against BART. About 20 community activists, along with City Councilwoman Cheryl Davila, had come out to show their support. Some milled about, chatting with the campers, and others held protest signs and chanted along the sidewalk.

The temporary restraining order buys the residents another week at the “Here There” site, where they have camped since early 2017.

“BART will continue to work with the courts and the community to resolve this complex issue,” said the agency statement. “We have provided adequate notice to relocate alongside information about available resources. We are hopeful the western encampment will comply with the notice to vacate.”

The campers, however, have no intention of leaving.

“Now it’s in the attorney’s hands,” said a camper who goes by Jim Squatter. “We’re helping them gather facts. I feel the judge realizes homelessness is a significant social situation with no real solution.”

The camp is represented by the Oakland firm Siegel & Yee. Lawyer EmilyRose Johns said they will make Fourth and Eighth Amendment arguments against evicting the residents, when they return to court on Oct. 31.

Community members and activists gathered around the “Here There” camp Tuesday evening, celebrating a restraining order against BART and protesting possible eviction after the order expires. Photo: Natalie Orenstein
Community members and activists gathered around the “Here There” camp Tuesday evening, celebrating a restraining order against BART and protesting possible eviction after the order expires. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

As for the campers on the east side, who allowed drugs and alcohol at their site, Squatter said, “While I have compassion for them, they need to make changes in their lives to help themselves.” However, he said he believes eviction will further destabilize their lives and prompt them to continue abusing substances.

Squatter and the other residents on the west side view their camp as an example of successful self-governance and order. Squatter was part of the self-identified “Poor Tour” group that began in 2014, camped at the Downtown Berkeley post office, and made its way around Berkeley for many months, continually re-establishing after evictions, before settling at the “Here There” sculpture.

“It’s a model intentional community,” said activist Nejj Kennedy, while protesting Tuesday evening. “Everybody has a right to have a place here as more people get pushed out.”

Davila, who does not represent the district where the camp is located, said her long-term hope is for the campers to find permanent housing.

“In the meantime, I’d like for them to be able to stay and continue to be the model encampment for everybody else,” Davila said.

Before they received the restraining order, the campers had planned a larger protest at the site Tuesday evening. Looking out at the activists in front of the camp, Squatter said, “Now everybody’s got a practice run” should they face eviction again next week.

This story was updated Wednesday afternoon with new information included in a BART statement sent to Berkeleyside after publication.

Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...