After 40 years of experiencing homelessness, Maceo Clardy finally had a place of his own.
It was last September when Clardy, 65, began his lease and received the keys to his new apartment. The unit was in a bright yellow South Berkeley senior housing complex. Clardy’s city caseworker helped him fill it with new furniture. Clardy said he was “the happiest guy in the world.”
But less than a year later, Clardy may be about to lose his apartment and fall back into homelessness. Just four months after he moved in, the affordable housing company that owns Clardy’s building began eviction proceedings against him. Clardy, who has significant disabilities and cannot read or write, did not understand the notices and did not respond to them in time. Now, Alameda County sheriff’s deputies are set to arrive at the beginning of July to lock Clardy out of the first permanent housing he’s had in decades.
The details of Clardy’s journey over the last year, from finally moving into permanent housing to facing eviction in a few months, reveal some of the challenges that Berkeley’s unhoused residents face even after obtaining a permanent place to live.
“All I can think about is waking up, losing my home,” Clardy told Berkeleyside. “My place to live.”
A long road to housing
Maceo Clardy is tall and thin. He likes nice clothes and loves listening to music — he plays it loud so his neighbors can hear. He takes his coffee with cream and five sugars.
Until last September, Clardy was also one of roughly 1,000 unhoused residents living in Berkeley, according to the 2022 point-in-time count of the city’s homeless community.
Clardy has experienced homelessness in the bay and other parts of the country for decades. He was born in 1958 in Kansas City, Missouri. His daughter, Destanie Newell, says her father has been estranged from his family since he was young.
“He’s been on the streets for about as long as he’s been capable of making decisions,” Newell told Berkeleyside.
Many of Clardy’s identities reflect those of other Americans experiencing homelessness. He is Black, one of a disproportionately large number of unhoused Black Americans. He experiences bouts of mental illness. He has chronic conditions that affect his daily health and memory, including HIV. He is 65 years old, one of a growing number of seniors in California’s homeless community.
Clardy also lives with a crucial challenge: he cannot read or write. This condition makes it profoundly difficult for him to navigate modern life. Clardy cannot read commands on his phone, save the phone numbers of people who call him, read street signs or use directions on public transit.
Newell, who grew up separated from her father and currently lives in Los Angeles, says she occasionally receives Facebook messages from strangers telling her that Clardy is sitting next to them at the library or coffee shop and has asked them to send her a note.
“Hey, your dad is sitting next to me,” she recalled a recent message saying. “Here’s his number. Give him a call when you can. He wants you to call him.”
Newell says Clardy only attended school through the third grade. She also suspects that his inability to read may be due in part to a learning disorder. Newell has dyslexia and initially struggled with learning to read.
Clardy was still young when he left Missouri and went to California. He lived in different parts of the East Bay, spending time in Richmond and Stockton and moving between different shelters. In the early 2000s, he worked at a South Berkeley urban farming program. At one point, he lived in a tent next to Berkeley City Hall and recalled talking with high school students every day.
As he grew older, Clardy says his focus turned to finding a permanent, stable place to live. Different people experience homelessness in many ways, he noted. Some people he met felt at home in encampments and hesitated to pursue more permanent housing. But a unit of his own was all Clardy wanted — a place to enjoy some peace and quiet.
“I was like, man, I need a place soon,” he said. “I’m tired of being out here in the streets.”
That goal began to come together, court filings show, when Clardy met Anthony Alcutt, a caseworker on a city of Berkeley’s homelessness outreach team. Alcutt connected Clardy with community services and helped him find hotel rooms. Alcutt also got Clardy a spot at Horizons Transitional Shelter in West Berkeley.
Five years after they connected, Clardy finally secured an apartment. The unit was in an affordable housing complex for low-income seniors near the Ashby BART station. Clardy’s rent would be subsidized by a federal housing program for people living with HIV, adding up to less than $175 per month.
Still, Clardy was hesitant. He likes to live alone and worried about living alongside neighbors and a property manager.
But as Alcutt helped him move into the building, Clardy’s worries eased. Alcutt rounded up some furniture for Clardy, including a bedframe and a coffee table. Clardy also bought some things to add, including a speaker for his music and a nice flatscreen TV.
“When I got the furniture, I felt real good,” Clardy said. “I mean, I got my own home.”
Clardy attached his brand-new keys to a black lanyard and hung them around his neck.
The housing company and the eviction
Soon after Clardy moved into the building though, Satellite Affordable Housing Associates — the property manager of Clardy’s building and one of the largest nonprofit housing developers in the Bay Area — began receiving complaints about him.
Several residents accused Clardy of verbally harassing them and making what they considered threats of violence, according to court documents filed by Satellite. One resident said he had threatened to “slap the white off of her.” Others said he shouted and swore at them. The building resident services coordinator reported that Clardy told them he had plans to purchase a gun.
In October, Satellite served Clardy with a cease-and-desist letter. Still, the reports continued and in late January, the housing company began eviction proceedings against him. Satellite also filed a separate lawsuit seeking a temporary restraining order against Clardy for workplace harassment.
Satellite attorney Mercedes Gavin, reached by phone Monday, declined to speak on the record about the details of the eviction case.
The company was able to begin the eviction despite Berkeley’s ongoing eviction ban because they claim he is an immediate threat to the health and safety of staff and other residents.
Clardy was out of his apartment when a Satellite employee delivered the first eviction notice on Jan. 20. According to court filings, multiple Satellite employees knew that Clardy had trouble reading and might be unable to understand the document. Still, the company did not take any additional steps to communicate with Clardy besides leaving a written notice at his door and sending an additional copy in the mail.
Later that day, Clardy got home and found the eviction notice by his door. To him, Clardy and his attorney argue, the eviction order appeared to be just another general notice from property management. Clardy couldn’t read it. He didn’t know that Satellite was ordering him to move out and had given him until the end of the month to respond.
The last day of January came and went. A week later, an attorney for Satellite took the next step and filed an unlawful detainer — an eviction lawsuit — in Alameda County Superior Court.
A messenger went to serve Clardy with a summons to appear in court, filings in the case show. This time, Clardy was home. When the server arrived holding the document, Clardy asked him what it was. The messenger told him it was an eviction lawsuit. Clardy asked him to read the document, but the server refused.
The next day, court filings show, Clardy asked another resident to read him the document from the court messenger. She was in a hurry, Clardy said, and told him the document was for an eviction case but she didn’t read him the full text either.
Had someone read the full summons to Clardy, he would have learned that the court had given him five days to file a response and defend himself against Satellite’s lawsuit. Instead, Clardy did nothing. Without a response from Clardy, the judge sided with the property manager by default.
In mid-April, a final notice arrived at Clardy’s apartment, which finally got his full attention. The document had a symbol he recognized: the star insignia of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office.
Deputies were coming to lock him out.
Housing, but little support
In some ways, the help Clardy has received was in line with the latest research on homelessness intervention. A growing number of studies support the Housing First approach to addressing homelessness, which prioritizes swiftly and stably housing people as a first step.
But advocates of this approach are quick to point out that housing is often only one part of the intervention — especially for people with disabilities, mental illnesses, chronic conditions and substance abuse disorders. Unhoused residents with serious conditions, they argue, need sustained support even after they become housed.
These supportive services can make a major difference. In Santa Clara County, a 2020 UC San Francisco study found that combining permanent housing and support services helped more than 80% of unhoused participants stay housed for several years. Without those services, the study found, it became far easier for people to slip back into homelessness.
“People living in homelessness can basically all be housed permanently, as long as they have the supports that match their needs,” said UCSF Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative Director Margot Kushel, who co-authored the study. “Without those things, it, in fact, does become hard to have housing.”
Kushel also emphasized that California’s systems for helping connect people with housing and supportive services opportunities face significant funding and staffing issues across the state.
“In most cases, we don’t actually have the appropriate level of support,” she said. “These are systems failures.”
In many ways, this is exactly what is happening for Clardy, whose recent steps away from homelessness have largely been shaped by a lack of support.
By Clardy’s own account, his new apartment has made a world of a difference over the last nine months. At the same time, though, he did not have resources readily available to help him navigate this new experience. He did not have someone to help him read his mail, navigate the city or mediate conflict with neighbors. He had no one to advise him on treatment for his mental illness — or on his legal rights during an eviction.
Now, after negotiating those challenges alone, Clardy may be about to lose this opportunity to leave homelessness behind.
Newell said it would be heartbreaking to see her father have to move onto the streets again.
“He was very proud when he called me and let me know that he gotten into a place,” she said. “I planned to come up there and visit him at some point. And I’m not really sure if that’s going to happen if they evict him.”
Clardy remembers the feeling that swept through him when he learned that an eviction lockout was imminent. He said it felt like a partner telling him they no longer loved him.
“It broke my heart,” he told me. “I couldn’t think. Couldn’t eat. It’s just like that — that somebody just broke your heart.”
Fighting for more time
When I met Clardy for the first time last week, he was sitting in a white conference room at the East Bay Community Law Center, emptying packets of sugar into a paper cup of steaming coffee from the office pot.
Back in April, when Clardy saw the sheriff’s star on that final notice, he immediately called Anthony Alcutt, his former caseworker. Alcutt told Clardy to head straight to EBCLC, just down the street from his apartment.
Since then, Laura Bixby, the center’s staff attorney who has taken up Clardy’s case, has been trying to get the judge to move Clardy’s rapidly approaching lockout date, which was set for this coming Friday.
Earlier this afternoon, an Alameda County judge finally issued a stay in Clardy’s case, pushing back his eviction lockout by 30 days.
The decision does not affect the court’s ruling in Satellite’s lawsuit, but it does mean Clardy and his attorney will have more time to appeal his eviction and try to get the case reopened, which they plan to do.
In an interview this afternoon following the decision, Clardy was in high spirits.
“I’m feeling great,” he said. “Ms. Laura, she’s a damn good lawyer.”
Still, Clardy said his feelings about the decision are complicated. The sheriff’s department, he pointed out, is still scheduled to lock him out — just not this week.
“I want it to be known,” he said, “if Berkeley’s doing so much, trying to get us off the street, it shouldn’t be easy for them to put us right back there.”
This story was updated to reflect the court’s decision to delay Clardy’s eviction lockout.
This story was updated with additional edits on June 13.