BERKELEY (CBS SF) — Two men who were struck and killed by an Amtrak train in Berkeley on Thursday night were homeless and had just been evicted from a camp nearby, according to an attorney with the East Bay Community Law Center, which has been assisting people in the encampments.
The Alameda County coroner’s bureau has not released the names of the two people killed but people familiar with a large camp on Caltrans property near Berkeley Aquatic Park said both had been living there and went by the names Jupiter and Fixie.
According to Amtrak, the two men were hit just after 8 p.m. on Thursday by a train heading from Bakersfield to Oakland.
Caltrans had cleared camps in the area three days this week, most recently removing a camp on Thursday near the Sea Breeze Market and Deli at 598 University Ave. where Jupiter had been living, said Osha Neumann, the supervising attorney for the East Bay Community Law Center.
Fixie had been living at a camp also on University Avenue, under the Interstate 80 overpass, which was cleared out on Tuesday and Wednesday, Neumann said.
Both camps were on Caltrans property and the people living there have been moved frequently, recently as often as once a week. But Neumann said that this week there was a coordinated effort between Caltrans, the California Highway Patrol and the Berkeley police department, leaving the people there with nowhere to go and frantically trying to move their belongings elsewhere.
Particularly on Thursday, when temperatures climbed to 90 degrees, moving was challenging, Neumann said, and some people living there are disabled.
Chiconda Davis, a Caltrans spokesperson, said that Caltrans works closely with cities and social service providers to move people into shelters and permanent housing when clearing camps.
“Our condolences go out to the family and friends who lost their loved ones in this tragic accident,” Davis said in an email. “Encampments along our right of way remain a safety issue.”
But Neumann disputes that the city and Caltrans have been providing people living there with workable solutions, and instead has inhumanely pushed them from place to place.
One of the people killed on Thursday night, Fixie, had previously lived in a camp near the railroad tracks, where he had a good relationship with his neighbors, Neumann said.
But he was recently forced to move because Berkeley police found he was in violation of a recently passed city ordinance stating that people’s possessions cannot take up more than a 3-foot-square space. He was forced to move closer to the highway on Caltrans property.
That story is similar for many of the city’s homeless residents, who have been pushed further west by enforcement of the city ordinance, Neumann said.
But Caltrans property is no sanctuary. Neumann said that Caltrans crews have made people pick up and move with increasing frequency. This week for the first time they coordinated with city police, he said.
That coordination “created a whole new level of crisis for people who were already in crisis. That made many of them very desperate,” Neumann said.
“They really had no alternative, Caltrans didn’t want them on their property, ordered them to vacate, now Berkeley was going to say, ‘No you can’t be here in those places that they had gone for refuge.'”
Faced with the prospect of another eviction this week, many residents of the camps went to the Berkeley City Council meeting to protest, carrying signs that read, “Where do we go?”
The question raises another question for the state and city policies: a 2017 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling found that criminalizing sleeping outside violated the Eighth Amendment’s protections against cruel and unusual punishment if people are provided with nowhere else to go.
Neumann said that Berkeley and Caltrans may not be violating the court’s ruling because they’re not giving the people they’re moving a criminal citation. But he argues that there’s an implicit threat when police are the ones conducting camp removals.
Some people who are moved get vouchers for shelter beds, he said. But Berkeley can’t provide adequate shelter for everyone the city moves.
“Berkeley has a much larger homeless population than it has shelter beds, there’s no way it could put them all in shelters,” he said.
He added that the city has pledged for now not to take enforcement action over the next week, offering the people there some reprieve.
“We’re very grateful for that reprieve, we now really have to come up with a solution,” Neumann said. “The question ‘Where do we go?’ needs to be answered.”
© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. and Bay City News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed