Berkeley dumps possessions of 8 homeless people

Leroy Morgan. Phon: Bryan Westfall

Leroy Morgan, whose possessions were taken by the city of Berkeley the day after Christmas. Photo: Bryan Westfall

The city of Berkeley collected and threw away the unattended possessions of eight homeless people on Dec. 26. Afterwards many of them said they had to scramble to find new blankets and coverings to stave off the chill of recent winter nights, although the city said it had sifted through the items for valuables such as those and found none. One of the homeless men said the items that were taken were vital to his survival.

The city confiscated about 13 shopping carts filled with possessions on a piece of city property on Eastshore Highway and Gilman the day after Christmas because workers thought the items had been abandoned, according to Matthai Chakko, a spokesman for Berkeley. Staff sorted through the goods and, when they did not find anything of value, dumped it.

“They did clear property that was unattended,” Chakko said. “They looked through it and didn’t find anything valuable. They didn’t find tents, or sleeping bags, or blankets. We would have bagged, tagged, and contained them.”

But Leroy Morgan, 58, who has been living on the streets of Berkeley for three years, said the belongings that were taken were essential to his survival. He left a new pair of shoes, his clothes, his Christmas presents and blankets in his collection of six shopping carts. Those items as well as some new socks from his friends at the Earthsake store, were worth more than $100, he said. Moreover, they were essential to his survival. Morgan said that seven other people who camp out under the undercrossing also lost their things. Interviews with three other homeless people, including two who said their stuff was also taken, backed up Morgan’s contention that at least eight people lost their possessions.

“I lost all my covers,” said Morgan. “I lost all my clothes. I lost my Christmas presents. My girlfriend had six or seven carts. Other people had mattresses. For Caltrans, its normal to do this [dump unattended stuff]. For the city of Berkeley, this is unusual. Berkeley has never done this before.”

Morgan is among a group of people who often sleep under the I-580 overcrossing over Gilman Street. Once a month, Caltrans cleans up the site and throws away discarded bedding, garbage, rotting food and other items.

Caltrans put up a notice informing the homeless community that it would be cleaning out the area under the freeway on Dec. 26. Morgan and others moved their goods a block away around 7:30 a.m that day. When they returned at 12:30 p.m., they saw people loading their things into a white truck and trailer with a city of Berkeley logo on it, said Morgan. The people loading up the goods said they would be stored in a container at the Berkeley Transfer Station on Second Street. Morgan also said the workers told him he would have to wait a week before collecting his goods and would have to show a California identification card. (Morgan does not have one.)

Morgan had lost all his blankets and didn’t have a place to sleep since the local shelters were full, so on Dec. 27, Bryan Westfall, a manager at the Earthsake warehouse on Gilman, sent out a tweet publicizing Morgan’s situation. The two have gotten to know one another as the Earthsake warehouse is near the Gilman overcrossing.

When Berkelsyside first contacted the city on Dec. 27, during a one-week city hall closure, Chakko said he could not find any evidence that Berkeley workers had taken the homeless people’s possessions. He talked to five people to try to track down what happened.

On Monday Jan. 6, after everyone had returned to work from the holiday break, Chakko interviewed more people and found out that city workers had taken the possessions and gotten rid of them.

Berkeley tries to be sensitive to the plight of the homeless and has set up a system of storing abandoned possessions worth less than $100 for 14 days at the storage container at the transfer station, and for 90 days if the goods are worth more than $100. People are free to go to the container seven days a week to retrieve their goods. There is no waiting period or need for ID, said Chakko.

The city tries to strike a balance between respecting the property of the homeless and keeping the streets free of illegally dumped goods, he said.

“Illegal dumping is an issue,” said Chakko. “If there is unattended property lying around there is an interest in us cleaning it up and at the same time we recognize this may be somebody’s possessions so that is why the city has this system of saving possessions if they are of value.”

Storage is an issue for homeless people, particularly if they travel around with shopping carts. Only one drop-in center in Berkeley, at 3234 Adeline St., has lockers, according to Berkeley’s website for homeless and community services. But the lockers are small and cannot accommodate a shopping cart.

“You have people stealing your shopping carts all the time,” said Morgan. He said a thrift store manager had given him a sleeping bag and a pad, but it wasn’t enough to keep him warm at night. Morgan said he is no longer sleeping under the Gilman St. overcrossing because he is afraid his stuff might be confiscated again.

Chakko said the workers from public works did not find anything of value in the goods they recovered or they would have saved rather than dumped them. He speculated that perhaps someone could have taken out the more valuable items before the city carted them off.

Chakko said Morgan and the others can file a claim with the Berkeley City Attorney to be reimbursed for what they lost.

“They are welcome to make a claim and we would encourage that,” he said.

New talks on homelessness in Berkeley start on Thursday (08.13.13)
Berkeley Food and Housing Project wins $1m grant (07.23.13)
Op-Ed: Berkeley needs a year-round youth shelter (05.30.13)
People’s Park focal point for countywide homeless count (02.01.13)
Berkeley moves towards a consensus homeless plan (01.31.13)
After Measure S failure, it’s time to act on homelessness (01.24.13)
Has it gotten harder to be homeless in Berkeley? (01.02.13)
Downtown Berkeley ambassadors help, monitor homeless (07.02.12)
Police step up patrols on Telegraph to clear sidewalks (05.01.12)

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  • aaaaand … this article is about city workers stealing blankets from houseless people . nowhere have we seen police ‘cracking down on shopping cart thefts’ … in fact, stores don’t go out and pick up the empty carts all around …
    aaaaaand … being in possession of something stolen still doesn’t empower government to steal a houseless person’s blankets

  • and neither do you or the cops, joker . regardless, this isn’t about ‘stolen shopping carts’ … this is about our tax dollars used to endanger the lives of houseless people by stealing their blankets, thereby reducing their ability to stay warm . get it yet? probably not

  • Bruce Freeman

    and ? i don’t see any
    owners/workers from grocery stores coming by my blocks to retrieve the
    many empty, abandoned shopping carts …

    Then call the city and ask for them to be removed. Just because it’s stolen and then dumped at the side of the road doesn’t suddenly make it un-stolen.

  • RU Joking?

    Give thanks that our city’s priorities are so out of whack that they offer cash to homeless people every time they clean trash from the side of the road while our infrastructure crumbles and the city defers maintenance until things get so bad that we have to issue parcel taxes just to fix the damned roads?

    Nah. How about not.

  • John Panzer

    I’m John Panzer. I live at 1797 Shattuck Avenue Apartment #312 and have so into this my fifth year. I’m a formerly homeless, recovering addict living with HIV. I’m 50 years old, disabled, a part-time undergrad at UC Berkeley, and serve on our City of Berkeley’s Homeless Commission as Linda Maio’s appointee. I volunteer from gratitude for the services our city and tax payers provided that allowed me to rebuild my life. I called in sick to Wednesday’s Homeless Commission meeting a 100% lie, I was on the streets of Berkeley, with claim forms this article and homeless people – just like you and me – without your keys and wallet? They don’t ask, they demand, to see your ID, if you don’t have it, they don’t see anything of value, they tell you to your face.

    We actually got to laughing with irony at phrases like, “posting a notice,” and “Homeless Community,” “anything of value.” Of course Mr. Chakko “said he could not find any evidence that Berkeley workers had taken the homeless people’s possessions.” That’s the job they were sent to do. I had “Homeless Community,” roaring on que, Mr. Chakko, to cover our hurt, fear and powerlessness disgrace. Blankets to homeless in December has value, at least they did for me. A man’s possessions aren’t subject to your valuation may I humbly “encourage,” you to see?

    Are you laughing at we homeless, with your claim forms? Is York RSG really a postbox in Roseville, can’t we file claims at the Clerk’s Office on Milvia Street? Releases must be signed, an investigation will commence, oh that sounds nice, I love the line about “keep a copy for your records,” when it’s my records I’m claiming to see.

    The instructions make it clear, if the form is filled out perfectly, without any mistakes like being homeless only then will it be considered and here’s where it gets exciting, if the City Attorney finds in favor of the homeless, (not the funny part) he’ll notify them in writing.

    If your claim is honored, a Release of Claim form will be sent to you by York RSG.
    Once the signed release is returned to York RSG, your claim will be processed for
    payment and a check will be mailed – trust us, you’ll see! To the address indicated on your claim form within two (2) to three (3) weeks from the date the signed release is received, then you get your greens. I’m a Junior at Berkeley – I have no idea what that means!

    I would like to offer my address, for filing, find our claimants and help them file – before my building gets sold, my records taken and you use that no evidence line on me.

    YORK RSG, P.O. Box 820, Roseville, CA 95661

    YORK RSG, P.O. Box 820, Roseville, CA 95661

    perhaps you would allow me to file them with my address on their behalf. No evidence of their possessions taken, yeah, clever; try that line with me. perhaps you would allow me to file them with my address on their behalf. No evidence of their possessions taken, yeah, clever; try that line with me.

  • regardless . this has nothing to do with the conversation, anyhow . we are talking about our tax dollars being used to pay people to increase the suffering of the most hurting people : the houseless people, who have few belongings and are having those, including blankets to keep them warm and safe from the elements, stolen and discarded by lying public employees

  • Completely_Serious

    I’m guessing when a city worker looks for “things of value”, union contracts, bloated pensions, free sex-change operations, YMCA memberships and every other Friday off top the list.

  • Are you really a lawyer?

    It’s not stolen if it is a found object.

    So if I find a car on the street with the keys in the ignition and no owner nearby does that mean it’s a “found object” and I can keep it?

  • jayson

    Does the city of Berkeley do anything to help the homeless in town? Are there mental health facilities, shelters, kitchens, or job training?

    Or does it just alternate between letting people sleep and piss on the sidewalks, pass out in public parks around children, and harassing them when it feels like it?

  • John Panzer

    On-line anonymity is the last haven of cowards. Your life is taxpayer-subsidized just the same as everyone else’s. How am I enjoying my taxpayer-subsidized life? Same as you or anyone else – I work and pay taxes. I don’t know about a roof top plaza or “the disabled,” I’m disabled and it’s humiliating to be unable to support myself.

    My name and address are on my statement, you’re anonymous because you don’t want your statement attributed to you obviously because it reflects poorly on you, not me. Your statement attempts and fails to turn taxpayers against the homeless and disabled because it’s easier isn’t it? Especially if no one knows who you are when you say it.

  • Mbfarrel

    What an absolutely appalling comment.

  • brycenesbittt

    Clearly, the City should photograph the items prior to disposal, using something approaching the rigor of police evidence collection. Put the photos up for all to see.