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Federal judge halts sweep of Berkeley homeless encampments

According to the plaintiffs, the city's decision to clear their camps during a holiday weekend, when plaintiffs would have less access to resources, put them in danger.

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) — A federal judge on Tuesday granted a temporary restraining order that will stop the city of Berkeley from sweeping homeless encampments in the city.

Plaintiffs are homeless residents of Berkeley who reside in tents and recreational vehicles on 8th and Harrison. They sought the temporary restraining order after city officials posted a “Notice of Imminent Health Hazard and Emergency Abatement” on a light pole on Harrison Street in the late afternoon on Sept. 1. The notice stated that the city intended to remove and destroy any property that was left on the street on Labor Day, Sept. 4, giving  plaintiffs three days’ notice to leave the area.

U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers granted the restraining order because plaintiffs had met the standard that they may suffer harm and loss of property if they are moved.

“Having reviewed the complaint and motion, the court finds plaintiffs make a threshold showing likelihood of success on the merits of at least some claims. The potential loss of personal property, community, and safety, particularly in the absence of access to resources and services is an irreparable harm,” Rogers wrote. “It is in the public interest that members of the community, including the unhoused, are not endangered or parted from their homes and community without cause.”

A temporary restraining order can be granted when plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits; are likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of relief, the balance of equities tips into their favor;  and an injunction is in the public interest.

The order is effective immediately, and will expire on Sept. 15, at 5 p.m. unless a further order based on good cause is entered. 

The notice claimed that there is a health and safety hazard in violation of the Berkeley Municipal Code posed by the conditions of the area, and that individuals were to reduce their possessions to a 9x9 foot area by Sept. 4. The city said it would store some of the property, but anything left unattended would be discarded. 

The plaintiffs' complaint claimed that the city’s decision to conduct the abatement during a holiday weekend, when plaintiffs would have less access to resources, violates their constitutional rights, including by placing them in state-created danger, violating their right to due process.

According to the complaint, the notice was not personally delivered to residents as required by Berkeley Municipal Code and that the notice was vague, providing “no guidance” on how individuals should mark their 9x9 foot area or designate any items that needed to be stored.

“Because of the holiday weekend, plaintiffs, some of whom have disabilities, have been unable to access resources to assist them in preparing to move, such as temporary storage for their belongings and housing services,” the plaintiffs say in their complaint.

The plaintiffs say they have lived in the 8th and Harrison area for several years. Most live in tents and recreational vehicles, and many have physical or mental disabilities. 

They claim that the city offered homeless residents shelter at a local Super 8 Motel, but the services were “very restricted,” and would not allow them to have visitors, park recreational vehicles, or take all of their property with them.

Those living in RVs were told that their only choice was to accept shelter and let the city dispose of their vehicles. If not, they must legally park on city streets and move their RVs periodically to avoid towing.

Categories / Civil Rights, Courts, Regional

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