Campus and city officials have begun moving People’s Park residents into transitional housing, leaving the Southside neighborhood with the sight of an emptier park than usual.
Most park residents are being moved into rooms at the Rodeway Inn, which is leased and operated by the city as an interim housing location. According to campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof, 40 of the 64 individuals identified through a census of park residents have moved into the inn, and campus is currently working with remaining park residents to find housing.
“We want to make sure we are not displacing people from the park,” said assistant to the city manager Peter Radu. “Instead, we are doing whatever we can to connect them to the services they need to end their unsheltered status.”
Campus facilities workers have been seen taking down empty tents and clearing out leftover belongings that were left behind purposefully to be cleared with consent of the former residents, according to Mogulof. He noted no tents were being taken down without transitioning the residents first and the consent of the owner.
Park advocates, however, alleged one instance where a resident left their tent temporarily and upon their return, their tent was taken down by facility workers. Mogulof said this particular incident may have been a result of a miscommunication. He added the resident is currently residing in transitional housing with no losses to their belongings.
“No one is being evicted. No one is being ‘cleared.’ No occupied tents are being removed. No belongings are being cleared or discarded without permission of the owners,” Mogulof said in an email. “Our social worker and members of the city’s Homeless Response Team are in direct contact, every day, with people who are transitioning to new accommodations.”
While at the Rodeway Inn, residents are provided with a private room, daily meals and support services, such as rent and transportation assistance, according to City Councilmember Rigel Robinson.
In addition to transitional housing, a daytime drop-in center will open June 17 at the First Presbyterian Church and Village of Love, along with a more permanent restroom in the Telegraph area and daily outreach, Radu noted.
“This was really coming out of what people in the park themselves were saying they needed as the park transitions,” Radu said. “The city and the university are jointly funding that to provide a place for people to have a safe place to be where they can start to imagine themselves in a place other than the park.”
Aside from residents that have already been transitioned into Rodeway, Mogulof noted the census counted six people that have moved into local housing other than Rodeway and two individuals that left the area for other options.
As of press time, however, campus has identified two people that have declined the Rodeway offer “multiple times,” three people that are still reviewing options and eight residents that “voluntarily” left the area that officials have not been able to contact.
The census does not account for the estimated 15 residents that arrived at the park after it was conducted, according to Mogulof. He noted the city Homeless Response Team has been in contact with said residents, offering options for housing which at least two individuals have already accepted.
“At this time, there is nobody in the park for whom we have not made at least one shelter offer,” Radu said. “We are setting aside every bed in our system in the city of Berkeley to move people inside.”
According to Mogulof, officials expect to finish rehousing park residents by the end of June, with construction to begin later in the summer.
At a Monday protest in front of California Hall, about 50 park advocates gathered to condemn campus development on the park, advocating for the necessity of open green space in the Southside neighborhood. Several speakers cited the recently designated historical status as a reason for its preservation.
Berkeley Rabbi Michael Lerner advocated in a speech that as “short time visitors,” the university can not claim ownership over the land, adding that they only have a “right” to use it responsibly.
“We have to fight for our green spaces. We have to fight to defend People’s Park,” said former City Councilmember Cheryl Davila at the protest. “We have to fight for all these things, we can’t just let it go anymore. We have to be everywhere, standing up, speaking up, rising up.”
Mogulof noted campus’s development plans call for preserving more than 60% of the park as “revitalized green space.”
Berkeley City Council candidate Aidan Hill highlighted the sanctuary community that the park provides, noting that many residents, regardless of legal status or ID ownership, rely on resources and services provided through the park without city or campus intervention.
“The ethical order for the universe is that the land is for the benefit of everyone and it should not be owned, it should be shared and what it produces should be shared,” Lerner said at the protest.