BART Removes a Homeless Camp in Berkeley; Another Fights to Stay

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BART cleared a homeless encampment and fenced off property in South Berkeley on Oct. 25, 2017. (Devin Katayama/KQED)

A plot of dry grass is now fenced on one side of the BART tracks between Alcatraz Avenue and 63rd Street in South Berkeley. "No Camping" signs have been posted around the fence by transit agency police.

On the other side of the tracks, alongside Adeline Street, a separate encampment featuring a couple of dozen tents is still bustling. People sit in chairs around a communal table where watermelons and other food is available. Residents will tell you the encampment is safe and drug-free and that decisions are communal. It's a model encampment, they say.

“It’s very forward-thinking, very structured,” said Trevor “T-Rex” Sullivan, who has lived at the encampment for about a month. “We show love and support to everyone.”

After posting notices to vacate both camps over the weekend, BART cleared the one east of the tracks Wednesday morning. But a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order on Tuesday blocking the transit agency from removing the encampment on the west side, named "Here There" after an art installation at the site. The camp's residents will get a chance to argue their case next week.

The "Here There" encampment has been established in South Berkeley since early 2017. (Devin Katayama/KQED)

Residents are part of a group called First They Came For The Homeless, which has protested against criminalizing homelessness in Berkeley the last couple of years. The "Here There" camp was established in December, according to a complaint that was filed.

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Camp residents are asked to attend a meeting and go through a two-week probation period, said Sullivan. The site has solar panels for electricity and a neighborhood group has helped get a portable bathroom installed.

A city spokesman told Berkeleyside in June the encampment was allowed to stay because there hadn't been complaints.

It was a different story with the camp on the other side of the tracks, which adjoined a residential neighborhood. Among the reported problems was a fatal drug overdose and an assault with a deadly weapon, BART says.

This week, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin said in a statement on his website:

"For most of the year, it has been my position that the encampment at HERE THERE, should be allowed to remain. For most of its existence, it was a well-run intentional community, supported by local residents and businesses. But there have also been problems and complaints."

BART says there have been "over 50 complaints about unsafe and dangerous activity from nearby neighbors and school parents," but it's unclear how many of those incidents are attributed to the "Here There" site.

"Here There" residents are quick to say their encampment is different from others nearby.

"When I first showed up here, it was a savior," said Sam Clune, who says he was staying in a Shattuck Avenue doorway. He said the first night he stayed at "Here There," he cried.

"It was such a relief," said Clune.

Sam Clune lives at the Here There encampment with his dog Trouble. (Devin Katayama/KQED)

The residents' case, which argues that evicting them will violate their civil rights, will be heard next Tuesday. The law firm Siegel, Yee & Brunner, which represents encampment residents, will file an amended complaint on Thursday to flesh out some of the resident's basic arguments, said attorney EmilyRose Johns.

Knowing the encampment will be arguing for its right to stay in the next week makes some residents, like Adam Bredenberg, anxious.

"We're still under a lot of stress and fear,"  said Bredenberg. "The case is very much up in the air. We don't know how it will turn out."