Caltrans fence forces homeless to find new camp

The people who used to sleep under the Gilman/I-80 underpass are trying to adjust to their new cramped sleeping situation. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

People who used to sleep under the Gilman/I-80 underpass are trying to adjust to their new cramped sleeping situation. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

Responding to complaints that the homeless people who camped under the Gilman/I-80 underpass were engaged in criminal activity, Caltrans has fenced off the area — pushing the encampment onto a narrow strip nearby.

Caltrans installed the fencing between Feb. 10 and March 6 at the request of the Berkeley Police Department, “in order to help curtail criminal activity in the area,” said Caltrans spokesman Robert Haus via email.

“We have had complaints regarding criminal activity associated with the encampment down there,” said police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Coats via email. “We have reached out to those camping in the area through members of our Crisis Intervention Team (CIT), Area Coordinators, and Mobile Crisis workers.”

Caltans erected a fence around an area under the Gilman overcrossing. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

Caltans erected a fence around an area under the Gilman overcrossing in West Berkeley. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

“We get a lot of calls for people drinking, people fighting, and people laying on the sidewalk” under the overpass, said Officer Jeff Shannon, who is among the city and police representatives who began the effort to address the encampment last fall. Shannon runs the department’s specialized mental health training, or CIT, program.

But the area’s homeless population, which has been pitching tents and sleeping on the sloped ground under the freeway for years, hasn’t gone very far. They just moved a few feet away. The encampment, instead of being tucked away, now takes up room on a more public right-of-way.

The fencing has upset the men and women who regarded the Gilman/I-80 undercrossing as a home of sorts. They disputed the fence’s necessity.

“For years we lived here and coexisted,” said Jeff Edwards, a homeless man who used to sleep in the area that is now blocked off. “There was nothing broken. It’s just them saying, ‘You’re an eyesore to the East Bay.’”

The homeless encampment, which varies from 10 to 50 people, is now squeezed onto a strip near a sidewalk. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

The homeless encampment, which varies from 10 to 50 people, is now squeezed onto a strip near a sidewalk. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

Edwards estimated that 10 homeless people spend the day under the overpass and up to 50 sleep there at night.

“They’re basically trying to push all the homeless out of this area,” said Theodore Thomas, another member of the encampment.

The area is the same spot where the city of Berkeley confiscated the unattended possessions of eight homeless people on Dec. 26. In that instance, Caltrans had notified the homeless encampment that they would be doing its monthly cleaning of the underpass. Eight homeless people moved 13 shopping carts out to a piece of city property on Eastshore Highway and Gilman. They then left to attend to personal business. Berkeley city workers thought the carts were abandoned and threw them away, forcing many of the homeless to scramble to find blankets and warm clothes, according to the city.

Some of those who lost their possessions have filed claims against the city. The claims are still pending, according to city spokesman Matthai Chakko.

The homeless people living under the Gilman overpass have been resistant to services offered by the city, Shannon said.

“Essentially what we do is go down there and try to engage people and find out what they need in terms of treatment or housing,” he said. “My experience is that people generally didn’t say they want anything.” A couple of people did ask to speak with homeless outreach workers, he said, but no data has been kept regarding the number of people in the area who have been placed in shelters since that effort began.

Berkeley dumps possession of 8 homeless people (01.07.14)

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  • David D.

    Unfortunately the homeless encampments now encroach on sidewalks on both sides of Gilman under the freeway. While I understand that homelessness can’t be solved overnight, I am concerned that these new camps are a safety hazard in the area. I travel through this interchange on a daily basis, either in car or on bike, and I have seen the homeless population wandering across Gilman in the middle of the interchange several times. Also, I have seen regular pedestrians hesitate in the area, and I am worried that they will choose to walk along the street to avoid the camps. In both situations, the result is the same: pedestrians endangering themselves.

    The current situation is unacceptable. I filed a work request with Caltrans, and they closed it out without addressing most of my concerns. I plan on contacting Linda Maio’s office, who represents both me and the area in question, to see what else can be done at this location. Gilman Street already has one of the most chaotic freeway interchanges in the Bay Area, and lack of action could spell disaster for a pedestrian. If the homeless population here continues to refuse assistance, then I guess all we can do is move them out of the interchange/underpass so they don’t create such a public safety problem.

  • guest

    If Albany built a shelter and provided the legally required amount of housing for the poor, there would be fewer people under the freeway.

  • joannatheresa75

    So an Albany problem is now a Berkeley problem? I agree with David D. posting above regarding the safety issue for all. However, what is the deal with the temporary shelter installed by City of Albany yet supposedly rebuffed by the former Bulb residents as not built to accommodate disabilities?

  • skepchick

    Yeah, right. Because Albany, not Berkeley, is the source homeless people in Berkeley. How about, instead, Berkeley cops stop sending Berkeley homeless folks to Albany?

  • notnot2

    The University overpas also has lots of people living under it now. Disgusting conditions and a clear fire danger since i have seen campfires there more than once.

  • Woolsey

    So you’re presuming the Berkeley homeless are from Berkeley. I would bet that not one is from Berkeley – they have just found Berkeley to be a very accommodation place to be.

  • guest

    Describe “refusing assistance”.
    Have you personally offered these people assistance?
    How do you know they have refused actual assistance?

  • guest

    Ah, but you’re very uninformed.
    Many street people are from here.
    Some of them even go to Berkeley High!

  • guest

    Actually, they have, if you read their statements in the Albany Patch. They may have good reason for having done have done so, but they were provided a warm dry place to sleep, storage space, and even a dog run. But they were expected not to do drugs (a deal breaker for many of them) and men and women were expected to sleep separately (ditto). What they want is to be left alone on the Bulb, to do what they want, when they want. Actually, according to their lawyers (yes, they have lawyers), they would prefer that the city of Albany provide them with running water, toilets (handicap accessible, presumably) and garbage bins. Then, they want to be left alone.

  • skepchick

    True that. People come to Berkeley because the weather is good, services are good, and their is a community of homeless folks. Then, they are sent to the Albany bulb by Berkeley cops.

  • notnot2

    They also want electricity provided by the city.

  • believe55

    Shelters are only a temporary housing for the homeless, and they don’t like staying in them because of the rules they have to follow. The should be a new type of housing for these type of homeless people who aren’t interest in working, and they have drug and mental issues. Make some small one bedroom or just a room HOUSING with security (to keep out violence & drugs) and onsite food provided (cafeteria style), other wise you’ll have fires, so they don’t have to cook. And if no money can’t be found to fund this, then ask Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle to donate some of his annual income of 75 or 78 million dollars. If the rich don’t help to take care of the poor then every time they come out their house, THEM AND THEIR HOUSE WILL BE ROBBED.

  • Alex

    Vagrancy laws?

  • Parsley

    I would have thought that the Berkeley Police Department would be more enlightened and sophisticated than ask CALTRANS to put up a fence and keep people off land where they have lived for years and that nobody uses as a solution to presumed “criminal activity” complaints?

  • John Panzer

    This is the proper case to cite what’s occurring in Berkeley, California. – details the financing mechanisms common in Berkeley City Council documents – the Summary is below.

    Summary: This policy brief reviews the city’s J-51 program, which offers developers and landlords property tax exemptions and abatement benefits to renovate residential buildings. With $256.6 million in tax expenditures in 2011, J-51 is one of the city’s most expensive housing programs. Between 2001 and 2011, the J-51 the program grew in cost by nearly 50 percent (18 percent after inflation), while the number of apartments improved under the program increased by only seven percent. This policy brief, which was undertaken to measure J-51’s worth as a catalyst for stimulating improvements to city apartments, argues for either drastically altering or replacing J-51 with a far more targeted incentive that focuses improvements on units that benefit low-income tenants.

    A recent Wall Street Journal article reported the loss of 82,000 affordable housing units in New York City – through their renovation and sale as 3 and 4 bedroom units when the most common applicant/participant in section 8 shelter plus care is a single black male; this is true in Berkeley as well.. This is the work of Shaun Donovan , now Secretary of HUD and the model Berkeley is using called Rental Assistance Demonstration.

    Why? Since 2008ish, ridiculous pension promises were made to public employee unions for votes, now in office these local politicians (nationally, not just Berkeley) have had to work fast to cover those promises, now laws, out of a shrinking general fund, by printing money – municipal bonds and “Inverse Floaters,’ a derivative the same as the credit default swap with a different name on the municipal bond issue side.

    The lies in Berkeley City Council documents/minutes/reports/resolutions/bond issues (usually not bonds but “notes,” that refer to inverse floaters are so rampant and obvious they’re somewhat comical to read. The City Council members know they’re not telling the truth about City Financing. They use other names to issue debt in addition to the City of Berkeley, they issue debt as Berkeley Unified school District, Alameda County Joint Powers Authority, or have it issued by the California Municipal Finance Authority.

    I give the Berkeley City Council credit, they’re trying to build out of the problem and tie the debt to real assets, but they’re throwing low income, disabled and formerly homeless -now housed people out to deliver the buildings 95% occupied without subsidized tenants – by contract and they use tax payer dollars tax credits meant to build housing for the very people they evict once the project is built and they make a show of affordable housing for 2 or 3 years.

    The JPI Consulting Group final Report Berkeley references is a sham. The Berkeley City Council gave them false information to produce HUD palatable statistics that are complete lies. The City Council isn’t following the recommendations of the report, they already had this plan in place. (Through the Berkeley Housing Authority, which is NOT a separate organization from the city…please, that’s ridiculous).

    Since my first meeting newly appointed to the City of Berkeley’s Homeless Commission last year, I was informed of the sale of our 75 publicly owned affordable housing units, and City financing of $33,000,000 to hand to the developer to buy it away from us. I know I’m a formerly homeless recovering addict half dead living with HIV, but that didn’t quite make sense to me, and i kept asking questions – which Berkeley officials didn’t like. I’m sure I’ll die in policy custody by June when the Berkeley City Council has to pay $25,000,000 out for the general fund for an inverse floater thats come due. Every city of Berkeley asset, building and piece of land is leveraged at least twice – I would guess we carry 3 times more debt than the City Manager reports based on the bonds/notes/inverse floaters i can find by CUSIP.

    They’re on to me, they don’t even register them anymore with the SEC, we’re below junk bond status and any rating by Moody’s or anyone else is purely pay to play – purchased. The state and feds are on to it, and rules/laws are changing, now its just a matter of how close to converting their debt for their promises that got them elected into Multi Family Housing projects, financed by municipal securities that you and i will be paying for decades – and they’re using benefits for the homeless to finance it. This email is not well thought out, it’s written quickly and scared as i try to finish my semester as a part time disabled student at UC Berkeley.

    John Panzer
    1797 Shattuck Avenue, Apartment #312
    Berkeley, CA 94709
    (this is my only address, email and phone number)

  • ray

    driving by the camp that is now forced closer to the sidewalk.. you can see hundreds of stolen bicycles as well as tins of stripped bike parts. not trying to be a cold heart, but judging from the zombies living under the overpass:this place is obviously has several drug influenced thieves stealing in order to get high and eat.i pray for them, and us :for we all are one

  • guest

    An improvement will be when these drug addicts are finally forced out of town. Too bad there are so many “activists” around to make sure that these bums aren’t forced to obey the laws that the rest of us are expected to follow.

  • Napa

    The way to end the homeless problem would be to stop giving them money when they beg on the side of the road. There are many free meal / free shelter / free clothing programs available in this society, and the homeless don’t use the money they get to buy clothes and food, they use it to by alcohol and drugs. If you give the homeless your spare change, you are essentially killing them and should be ashamed of yourself.