Andrea Henson, staff attorney at East Bay Community Law Center, spent two days last week with a houseless encampment in an effort to prevent the local houseless community from being harassed and displaced.
Henson’s act came in light of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision allowing the California Department of Transportation, or Caltrans, to sweep and evict residents in the Ashby area.
“We have to be honest and recognize that we have people in our city that are unsheltered,” Henson said. “My goal is that they can remain there and feel safe and not feel targeted.”
According to a Where Do We Go Berkeley press release, with a majority of the Ashby encampment removed, residents were forced to disperse throughout the city. The press release noted that many residents relocated to the “2nd and Page” encampment.
Henson noted she began her stay at the 2nd and Page encampment Wednesday, when houseless residents were beginning to be evicted from Ashby. According to her, women were especially vulnerable to the eviction as they were allegedly being verbally threatened by business owners and security guards.
One woman in particular alleged that she was verbally assaulted by a security guard who threatened to arrest her and remove her dogs from her care if she did not move to another location.
“All women who came from Ashby have been threatened by some entity and feel like they don’t have a place to go,” Henson said. “Encampment communities provide safety, provide structure and community. These women needed someone to stand with them and needed someone to be their voice because they’re exhausted.”
Henson said her goal is to protect houseless individuals from unprovoked harassment while undergoing eviction. Her intentions are to keep houseless residents together to more efficiently find permanent housing and make sure the residents can stay in one place for as long as possible, she said.
Some residents have disabilities that make it difficult for them to seek congregate shelter, Henson added. She noted that keeping these residents together can facilitate the process of finding housing without needing to find alternative means of shelter that they cannot accept because of a lack of accommodation for their disabilities.
Although Henson intended to stay at the encampment for more time, she said she had to leave the encampment early due to personal matters. In the meantime, she has provided each client with a notice stating that they are clients of the East Bay Community Law Center, that they are not to be harassed and that they are waiting for permanent housing.
Furthermore, Caltrans spokesperson Janis Mara noted that Caltrans will continue to work with the city of Berkeley and Alameda County to connect houseless people with shelter options and services as they maintain their transportation network.
“These women don’t need to be verbally harassed by anyone, they should be protected,” Henson said. “What I would hope is that we can all work together, including the city and the business owners, because all of these individuals are on their way to housing.”