BERKELEY — How a lot stuff can slot in a 3-by-3 foot sq. outlined in neon pink spray paint on a metropolis sidewalk?
For the handful of individuals swept off two blocks of the town’s Harrison Road encampment early Tuesday morning, the reply was “not a lot.”
Six hours after backhoes began scooping up scores of pillows, water jugs, clothes and different private property that didn’t match and tossing them into dump vehicles, Clarence Galtney was one of many final residents sorting by means of his issues.
For the 65-year-old, who has lived for practically a decade alongside the Harrison Hall the place the Gilman District’s industrial hub and residential neighborhoods collide in Northwest Berkeley, deciding which issues to pack and which issues to go away behind was easy.
“I’m simply attempting to seize probably the most worthwhile stuff and go,” Galtney mentioned, eying the general public works crews power-washing and fencing within the sidewalk, slowly inching nearer to his camp that’s been swept earlier than.
However it wasn’t simple. Whereas he continues to attend for his transitional housing paperwork to course of, Galtney mentioned Tuesday morning’s displacement “seems like they’re taking one other chunk out of me. Town’s hurting me actual unhealthy.”
This week, the town’s public works workers and law enforcement officials started closing the longstanding encampment alongside Seventh and Eighth streets in a three-day “imminent well being hazard and emergency abatement,” which was first ordered in August to deal with issues like rat infestations, construction fires and mounting rubbish. Two folks have been arrested initially of Tuesday’s sweep.
Following a 72-hour discover, any belongings — apart from tents and different “cushioning materials” — that weren’t consolidated inside the 9-square-foot boundary have been both put into non permanent storage or discarded, consistent with the “shared sidewalk coverage” that Berkeley councilors handed 5 years in the past.
The controversial rule — permitted inside an October 2018 ordinance largely drafted by Mayor Jesse Arreguín and Councilmember Sophie Hahn — is barely being strictly enforced after months of outreach finally fizzled into failed initiatives and recurrent hazards, in response to Berkeley officers.
Arreguín was unavailable for remark, however in a press release offered by his assistant Stefan Elgstrand, the mayor sought to guarantee residents that the town is main a “compassionate and efficient response to lifting folks out of homelessness with dignity whereas offering them housing whereas defending the well being and security of our complete group.”
Elgstrand additionally emphasised that Berkeley “offers help for storage and entry of non-public belongings,” and mentioned that together with biohazards and used needles, practically 30 “fire-related incidents” broke out on the encampment in the course of the first eight months of 2023, together with one on Friday.
Neighbors and close by companies, together with Berkeley Repertory Theatre amenities workers, mentioned they’ve coexisted with the unhoused group dwelling alongside Harrison Road for greater than seven years, however the points grew to become untenable after the pandemic. They mentioned that they had left many within the Gilman District annoyed and fed up with witnessing jarring scenes of human struggling with out many choices to assist, not to mention tackle their very own navigation and security issues.
However unhoused residents like Yesica Prado, a photojournalist on the San Francisco Public Press, are additionally up in arms, feeling like these sorts of metropolis guidelines are used because the groundwork to focus on folks sleeping on sidewalks, seize their property and push them out.
Prado has lived at Eighth and Harrison since 2018, when she and different RV dwellers have been displaced from the Berkeley Marina, following a metropolis council vote. She mentioned this week’s try to implement the city’s 9-square-foot allowance is “simply ridiculous, and actually doesn’t make any sense.” It’s so small, she identified, that frequent gadgets like wheelchairs and bicycles take up virtually the complete footprint, if legally saved.
After a 12-hour sweep final October, Prado was one of many 4 encampment residents who efficiently delayed an identical sweep initially of September, when a choose granted a brief restraining order as a result of the town failed to supply enough lodging whereas many storage and housing providers have been closed over the Labor Day weekend.
However that delay expired on Sept. 27, and residents alongside Seventh and Eighth streets got three days’ discover to begin packing up earlier than Tuesday.
Peter Radu, who leads the Berkeley’s Homeless Response Staff, mentioned he makes use of discretion with sidewalk insurance policies and doesn’t frequently implement the 9-square-foot footprint. Nonetheless, he mentioned encampments alongside Harrison Road have turn into untenable, and this week’s sweep will lastly enable the town to deal with “lengthy overdue” infrastructure tasks there.
“I can perceive the spirit of whether or not or not you’re being a great neighbor, which is what we tried to do,” Radu mentioned, referring to months of outreach with unhoused residents, and new pointers which might be nonetheless being determined by the town. “Our basic method is to be extra involved with the spirit of compliance with that (3×3) legislation, somewhat than the strict letter of the legislation.”
However Aidan Hill, the previous vice-chair of Berkeley’s Homeless Fee, mentioned the so-called “3×3” rule embodies merciless and weird punishment. He mentioned these sorts of limitations on public areas wouldn’t should be enforced if metropolis employees did a greater job of serving to communities hold encampments clear — saying it acts as virtually “deliberate obsolescence or failure by design.”
And because the metropolis continues to uproot unhoused residents with restricted locations to go, he mentioned these sorts of sweeps are complicating the precise downside they’re attempting to deal with.
“Folks would possibly take into account it hoarding, nevertheless it’s actually a survival mechanism that claims, ‘My issues and my dignity have been taken from me so many occasions, I’m going to latch onto no matter I’ve left,’” Hill mentioned. “That’s the psychology of what’s occurring.”