Homeless residents at Ashby-Shellmound encampment allowed to stay for 6 months, judge says

Where Do We Go Berkeley argued that the residents have disabilities that make shelter options unsuitable.

Lawyers Osha Neumann and EmilyRose Johns take declarations from Ashby-Shellmound residents in August for a lawsuit from the group Where Do We Go Berkeley. Credit: Supriya Yelimeli

At least 11 homeless people who relocated to an encampment on the Emeryville-Berkeley border in August will be allowed to stay there for six months after a judge granted a preliminary injunction Monday in a lawsuit filed by Where Do We Go Berkeley against Caltrans.

Some of the people currently living at the Ashby-Shellmound encampment used to live at other encampments along the Interstate 80 corridor in West Berkeley, including the University-Frontage encampment, but were displaced when Caltrans closed the large camps in August.

Where Do We Go Berkeley filed a lawsuit arguing that the remaining residents did not have temporary housing (though providers are on track to find them placement), and that disabilities or health conditions prevented many of them from accepting stays in hotel rooms or the new Grayson shelter.

They were granted a temporary restraining order against Caltrans on Aug. 26, and U.S. District Court Judge Edward Chen returned Monday with an order granting the residents a six-month stay until March 23, 2022. The order also extends to 16 other people who were not included as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, bringing eviction protection to 27 people in the encampment.


Chen noted that the freeway encampment poses risks for drivers, neighbors and encampment residents, but said the residents’ current risk of exacerbated homelessness outweighs those factors.

“There have been different people living in the [Ashby] encampments over the years, and, as of this date, no serious injuries or harms have occurred,” Chen wrote.

Caltrans will be allowed one exception: The agency can evict anyone living in an eastern area of Ashby-Shellmound that has already been leased out for a housing construction project.

In a statement, Councilmember Terry Taplin — who represents the West Berkeley district — wrote that he was disappointed by the court’s decision. He wrote that the Grayson shelter is a far better alternative for homeless residents with disabilities than the city has been able to offer in the past, and that Berkeley will continue working with its partners and Caltrans to address the situation.

“The status quo is not safe for anyone,” Taplin wrote in the statement. “I truly believe that housing is a human right; and I also believe that encampments at freeway offramps with significant risks of fatal traffic collisions, fire, and vector diseases are not an adequate housing solution.”

Supriya Yelimeli is Berkeleyside's homelessness and housing reporter. Email: supriya@berkeleyside.org. Twitter: SupriyaYelimeli. Phone: 510-585-8315.