11.18.16 - A couple hours before dawn Thursday, Mike Lee left his encampment at Allston Way and Milvia Street in Berkeley to get coffee at a nearby gas station. When he returned, he found out that he’d lost everything he had except the clothes on his back. All of his personal belongings at the encampment, including his extra clothes, shoes and blanket, had been seized.
A couple hours before dawn Thursday, Mike Lee left his encampment at Allston Way and Milvia Street in Berkeley to get coffee at a nearby gas station.
When he returned, he found out that he’d lost everything he had except the clothes on his back. All of his personal belongings at the encampment, including his extra clothes, shoes and blanket, had been seized.
Lee said he’s been homeless for the past two years, but a traveling tent community has become his makeshift home, where he sleeps, eats, and protests Berkeley’s homeless policies with homeless activists.
Berkeley police officers shooed the group of about 20 homeless people camped across the street from Berkeley High School about 4 a.m. Thursday morning as the city of Berkeley, like San Francisco, continued to grapple with its homeless problem.
“I have a heart condition, and I’m 61 years old with no blanket this morning,” Lee said Thursday between sniffles. “We have 30 police officers here evicting homeless people instead of getting bad guys.”
Some of Berkeley’s homeless said they were missing more than blankets, claiming their laptops had been confiscated by authorities.
Those in the group took the belongings they still had and set up less than a block away on the steps of the Berkeley Post Office, once the site of its own homeless encampment that lasted nearly two years.
By 9 a.m., postal service officers were on scene telling them they had to move their property off of the steps.
They relocated their heap of property — ranging from tents and backpacks to a bottle of vanilla Coke and a pet rat ironically named Cat — about 5 feet away from the steps of the office.
By 10 a.m., Berkeley police officers told them once again they had to leave.
The group had been holding a mobile protest, setting up camp communities in the city as they advocate for their own tent city. They had three demands: a legal campsite where homeless people can pitch tents, an ending of criminalization of the homelessness and more affordable housing.
It was the seventh time they’d been evicted from a spot in two months, Lee said.
Evictions reached a boiling point on Nov. 4, when District 2 City Council candidate Nanci Armstrong-Temple was arrested at one of their former spots at Adeline and Fairview streets.
The district attorney’s office later decided not to file charges against Armstrong-Temple.
The last official count of Berkeley’s homeless population, taken in January 2015 by theAlameda County organization EveryOne Home, tallied 834 homeless individuals, although some suspect the number is closer to 1,000. Of those in the count, 266 were sheltered and 568 were unsheltered, city officials said.
“We’re in a situation where there is a clear shelter crisis in Berkeley,” said EmilyRose Johns, an attorney representing the people who lived in the homeless encampment.
Mayor-elect Jesse Arreguin said Thursday that the city was still exploring options as he stopped by to observe the encampment sweep. One man asked him where they were supposed to go.
“I don’t have an answer to that,” he said regretfully. “There were places we were looking at. I don’t know. We need to talk to the city manager.”
Arreguin also called the situation a crisis.
“Fundamentally, there’s not enough housing,” he said in an interview.
But the tide could soon change. Citizens voted Nov. 8 to pass Measure U1, a plan to raise taxes on some landlords and use the funds on programs that increase affordable housing and protect residents from homelessness.