A prominent homeless camp in Berkeley that has been at its current location for most of this year was given an eviction notice over the weekend, but activists are rallying to keep it there.
The large camp has been at the iconic “Here” and “There” signs marking the Berkeley-Oakland border since mid-January, according to homelessness activist J.P. Masser. The camp is very visible to traffic entering Berkeley from Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Adeline Streets.
Now dubbed “the Poor Tour,” the camp grew out of a blend of homeless assistance and activism that started last year, when camps were initially established in the area of the Berkeley Bowl grocery store and the city’s central coordinating office for homeless services called the Hub at 1901 Fairview St.
At the time, participants said they were protesting the city’s system for allocating aid to homeless people, calling it disorganized and difficult.
The city of Berkeley raided the camp at several locations last year, at one point even arresting City Council candidate Nanci Armstrong-Temple and 70-year-old activist Barbara Brust. But since moving to the border signs along the BART tracks, the camp’s residents have been able to camp mostly unimpeded.
This apparently was partly due to confusion over who actually owned the land they were camping on. According to activists and residents at the camp, BART police arrived on Saturday evening and started putting up signs giving campers a 72-hour notice to leave.
In a video posted by homeless advocate Mike Zint on Saturday, a BART police officer serving an eviction notice said BART didn’t realize that it was BART property and that the transit agency had a memorandum of understanding with the city of Berkeley to maintain it, but the city asked BART to remove the campers.
According to Masser, the group, which includes activists in the First They Came For the Homeless organization, has established a short list of rules for the camp, like forbidding drugs and keeping noise curfew hours and also recently added a porta-potty and hand washing station. Masser said there are about 25 people living there.
Masser wrote in an open letter to BART directors Rebecca Saltzman and Lateefah Simon, who represent Berkeley, that the community there is peaceful and law-abiding.
“This is cruel; this is inhumane; this is despicable. I implore you to stop it. … These people have no place to go. There are no excess shelter beds in Berkeley. I know you are acutely aware of the extreme housing shortage in the Bay, and the desperate plight of homeless people as a result.”
BART officials did not return a request for comment Monday.
Because the 72-hour notice was reportedly served on Saturday, the soonest the camp could be evicted would be Tuesday evening. However, such enforcement actions frequently come during the early morning hours.
Activists have called for an “eviction resistance party” to begin at the spot on Tuesday evening and go “as long as necessary.”