Update: Homeless protest camp outside Old City Hall cleared out

The scene in front of Old City Hall around 9 a.m. on Wednesday Sept. 5. Photo: William Newton

Update, Wednesday Sept. 5, 10:48 a.m.: Ten tents, seven people and their belongings and half a truck-load of “debris” are no longer on the lawn in front of Old City Hall after city staffers and police officers showed up at the encampment around 6 a.m. Wednesday morning, according to city spokesman Matthai Chakko. Staff asked those who were there to leave, reminding them of the violations they were committing. Chakko said five of the 10 tents were unoccupied. Vouchers for the emergency shelter, now housed at the North Berkeley Senior Center, were offered but none were taken, according to Chakko. City employees found mosquitoes at the site, as well as evidence of amplified sound, which is illegal. Some of the grass had been damaged by the encampment. The order was given to clear the camp by City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley.

Original story: The city of Berkeley has told campers who set up outside Old City Hall on Saturday that they need to leave. Two notices of violation were issued on Tuesday, Sept. 4, according to city spokesman Matthai Chakko, although the notices do not include a date by which time the camp needs to be dismantled.

The encampment has the support of the First they Came for the Homeless group, an intentional community and protest camp. About 10 tents were pitched on the lawn in front of Old City Hall on Martin Luther King Jr. Way over the weekend.

First They Came for the Homeless encampment outside Old City Hall on Saturday, Sept. 1. Photo: Emilie Raguso

“The Mayor and I have repeatedly asked the City Manager to disperse this group at Old City Hall, particularly as there is space at the North Berkeley Senior Center,” Councilwoman Kate Harrison wrote in an email newsletter sent out Tuesday afternoon. Harrison said that on Monday city staff had offered the campers vouchers for the shelter, but that the campers had indicated they were unlikely to accept them.


Barbara Brust, a homeless activist and spokeswoman for the encampment that set up outside Old City Hall on Saturday, Sept. 1. Photo: Emilie Raguso

On Saturday, Berkeleyside interviewed homeless activist Barbara Brust at the campsite. Brust said the closure of the Berkeley Emergency Storm Shelter on Ninth Street on Saturday had prompted people to set up the camp. As Berkeleyside reported Friday, the plan is for the shelter to be at the North Berkeley Senior Center, on MLK and Hearst, for two weeks and then move to the Frances Albrier Community Center at San Pablo Park for another two weeks. After that, its future is up in the air.

Brust said there were more people needing shelter than space available. “This is not appropriate. For the last week I’ve known this is coming and I’ve been trying to talk with the people to see if they’d be willing to make a political statement,” she said. Brust said the camp is enforcing “clean and sober” rules and a “good neighbor” policy. Watch the full video interview.

Chakko said the city does have space at the North Berkeley Senior Center as it is not at full capacity. There were 31 people there Saturday and 46 on Monday, he said. He confirmed city staff had been encouraging campers outside City Hall to take shelter there.

“Being in front of City Hall is not a suitable place when there is accommodation on offer for them,” he said.

At 2:46 p.m. on Tuesday, First They Came for the Homeless posted to its Facebook page: “The police just issued a verbal warning to remove everything or it would be taken. The cops are about to attack disabled people, again. They need support. They need witnesses, and cameras on the ground ASAP. Old city hall, in Berkeley. The home of free speech, if you are rich enough.”

First They Came for the Homeless has camped in front of Old City Hall before, as well as at various other locations in the East Bay, most notably on BART land near the Here There sculpture at the intersection of Adeline Street and Stanford Avenue.

A Berkeley resident who lives near Old City Hall, and who wishes to remain anonymous, said he and other neighbors were dismayed to see the return of the campers. “I’m anticipating a whole new round of dysfunction, stress and danger on my block,” he said. “Those four months (of the prior encampment) weren’t safe or healthy for anyone — the homeless people themselves, the neighborhood, or the thousands of students in the area.”


Harrison said the city was working hard “to ensure our homeless neighbors live in dignity,” but that “the actions of a few are absorbing a disproportionate amount of our attention and harming our neighborhood.”