The members of the homeless encampment at the “Here There” installation packed up their belongings and moved out Saturday morning, before BART had a chance to kick them off the site. By 2 p.m., some had already begun reestablishing the camp on the lawn in front of Old City Hall, on Martin Luther King Jr., Way, where the council meets.
“We’re here because we want to make a statement,” said Toan Nguyen, who has sued the city of Berkeley along with some of the other campers. “The winter is coming. It’s going to be raining and cold. Where are the homeless supposed to go?”
The campers said they had been approached by Lt. Andrew Rateaver of the Berkeley Police Department, who said they could protest on the Old City Hall lawn during the day, but told them they would have to leave at night.
“I offered some information about the municipal code and lodging overnight,” confirmed Rateaver in an email to Berkeleyside.
Some other campers who left the Here There site on Adeline Street this weekend moved to Aquatic Park. The group, which considers itself a protest camp and has gone by the names First They Came for the Homeless and the Poor Tour, is splitting in half based on who is able to continue protesting, members said. For the past 11 months, the 20-30 members camped together at the Here There site which is on the Berkeley-Oakland border.
BART, which owns the property by the Here There sculpture, stuck trespassing notices in the ground around the camp late Wednesday morning, giving a 72-hour eviction warning to the homeless residents. The transit agency had attempted the same tack the week before, but a federal judge gave the campers permission to stay another week at the site, before allowing BART to enforce the trespassing laws.
By Friday evening, some of the residents had already folded up their tents and left the site. Others stuck around until Saturday.
Late Saturday morning, around when the eviction notices expired, all that remained at the Here There site was a lone tent and stacks of belongings and trash lined up along the sidewalk, off of the BART property. Campers and neighbors milled about, drinking coffee and hauling items into cars. One camper swept the ground around the Here There sculpture.
Camper Adam Bredenberg said he had spotted two BART police vehicles earlier, but said no officers had come to talk to the group. He said nobody planned to wait around and resist eviction.
“Someone suggested, ‘What if we just get out and it’s 100% clean?,'” Bredenberg said. “It felt like the right thing to do at this point in time. I’m definitely not saying we won’t resist in the future.”
The one tent that remained on the land Saturday morning belonged to a mentally ill woman, other campers said. Several of them tried to convince her to leave Friday evening, but she refused.
“I hope she doesn’t get in trouble,” Bredenberg said.
The First They Came for the Homeless group was previously evicted around 12 times by the city of Berkeley from various locations. The campers set up at the Here There site in January. They earned support from neighborhood activists, who allowed them to do laundry at their homes and helped collect their trash.
Some of the neighbors were there to help them move out Saturday morning, including Richie Smith, who has lived in South Berkeley since 1949.
“I’m here to support,” she said. “This is my campsite, my domain.” She said she has seen the area around the BART tracks go through many changes over the decades, “some humane and some inhumane.”
At Old City Hall Saturday afternoon, Sarah Menefee, a founding member of First They Came for the Homeless, said she was prepared for another “cat and mouse” game with the city, if they were evicted from the new site.
“They didn’t like us when we were being peaceful and out of sight, so now they’re getting us in their front yard,” she said. “It’s not over until everyone is housed.”
The long-term future of the homeless group depends on its actions, the city’s plans and the decision of San Francisco judge William Alsup. Some of the campers filed a lawsuit against the city of Berkeley and BART, alleging that the evictions constituted cruel and unusual punishment. Alsup has made a rare demand of both parties, asking the lawyers for the campers as well as the city to submit plans for sheltering all of Berkeley’s homeless residents this winter.
The campers have long called for Berkeley to sanction their encampment. After initially considering it, the city abandoned the idea early this year. However, the idea seems to be back on the table, as Councilwoman Kate Harrison asked the city attorney for a legal analysis of sanctioned camps, which the attorney said she will provide by the end of the month. At the Oct. 31 City Council meeting, Harrison initially asked her colleagues to make a stronger statement in support of encampments, but other council members said they were not ready to make such a big policy shift without gathering more information.