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Berkeley City Employees Clean Up Homeless Encampment Under Gilman Overpass

By Sara Gaiser (BCN)
Friday July 18, 2014 - 09:50:00 AM

City of Berkeley officials today cleaned up a homeless encampment under the Gilman Street overpass adjacent to Interstate Highway 80 despite objections from advocates who have been working to find housing for those living there. 

City workers went into the encampment this morning to remove garbage and debris, according to city spokesman Matthai Chakko.  

"Over the past few months the conditions at the Gilman underpass have gotten worse and there have been particular concerns about the amount of garbage debris and other refuse that was creating a haven for rodents," Chakko said.  

"So out of concern for those conditions and for safety, staff went in today and cleaned up all the garbage and refuse and debris." 

Chakko said the few people present in the camp when workers arrived packed up their belongings and left peacefully.  

Unattended belongings that appeared to have value were placed in storage and can be reclaimed from the city, he said.  

City officials on July 10 retracted a July 2 notice warning residents that the city would remove all personal property from the site on July 15 after homeless advocates said they were working to find housing for those living at the camp.  

A new notice posted that day, however, warned that the city would "monitor the situation and may without further notice take appropriate action to abate public nuisance conditions, up to and including the removal of personal property."  

Osha Neumann, a homeless advocate who works at the East Bay Community Law Center, said he's upset that the city cleaned up the encampment today with little notice to the people who were living there.  

His agency is among those working with city agencies to find housing for the camp's residents.  

Neumann said, "It's a very sad, pathetic scene at the encampment and it's kind of pathetic how the city went about this." 

He estimated that only seven to ten people had been living at the encampment recently. 

Neumann said he doesn't know where most of those people went after the city removed their property this morning but he said several wound up on a nearby site owned by Caltrans. 

The number of homeless people living under the Gilman Street overpass increased dramatically earlier this year after Albany officials closed down a homeless encampment at a nearby landfill site known as the Albany Bulb. 

Albany officials cleared out the site, which is near Golden Gate Fields, so it can become part of the Eastshore State Park and provided money to help homeless people who had been there find alternative housing and services. 

Albany Assistant City Manager Nicole Almaguer said last week that many former Bulb residents have found housing and a recent report indicated that only two former Bulb residents were living at the Gilman Street encampment. 

Chakko said the city is still working to find permanent housing for the people who have been living at the site. 

"There's been housing approved for a number of them, but it's a longer process," he said.  

Chakko could not comment on any efforts to keep people from returning to the site but said no new fencing had been added to the area.