BERKELEY (KPIX) – Encampments along the Interstate 80 corridor have grown in size over the last few months. Now, the City of Berkeley is taking action to clean up what it calls an immediate health and safety hazard.
So far, workers with the City have hauled away 35 tons of trash and debris from the site. The Mayor says the next step is to find a safer place for those here to call home.
The University Avenue off and on-ramps have become a home for a large homeless encampment community, one that Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin says has grown out of control.
“It’s not safe, it’s not acceptable, any homelessness is a moral imperative,” said Mayor Arreguin.
For the last several months, the City has been working with CalTrans to address the health and safety issues. Also, according to Berkeley Police, there have been numerous calls for service to this area, including a shooting earlier this month and several fires.
Mayor Arreguin says his constituents have been vocal about getting this site cleaned up.
“Living on a major highway on-ramp is not a safe location,” said Arreguin. “We can’t let that continue.”
Seeing this encampment, especially pains Marianne Desassise. Her brother suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and lived on the streets
“Everyday I cry for this because I know first hand how it is,” said Desassise.
The City of Berkeley has been able to move some of the residents, but finding shelter space during a pandemic is extremely difficult. Berkeley residents we spoke to say they want to see a long-term solution to homelessness.
“There are people out there that have figured out a program. They need the support for that,” said Desassise.
Robert Laughlin adds, “There is something very much wrong, something that is out of balance that needs to be thought of in a systemic way.”
For now, the goal is to address the immediate issues, then Berkeley is counting on CalTrans to take care of its property. Mayor Arreguin says, “We’re going to step in and do what we need to do but we need CalTrans to commit to regular maintenance of their properties that doesn’t grow into this kind of situation.”
We did speak to several residents here. They declined an on camera interview but one woman by the name of Brianne says they want to stay as a community, just move to another location.
CalTrans wasn’t available for comment Monday.