Sullivan et al. v. City of Berkeley

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Overview

In October, 2017, the group known as First They Came For The Homeless sued the City of Berkeley and BART in Federal Court, alleging that removal of their encampments during a period known by FTCftH as the "Poor Tour" was unlawful. BART was removed as a defendant by U.S. District Judge William Alsup in January, 2019.

A shifting cast of plaintiffs rotated over the months, finally settling on three led by Clark Sullivan, leading to the case’s caption Sullivan et al. v. City of Berkeley.

In April Judge Alsup dismissed some of the Sullivan plaintiffs’ claims [PDF], essentially because he found no triable issue underlay certain of plaintiffs’ claims (which were then dismissed in a partial summary judgment). The remaining claims proceeded to a jury trial in May.

Timeline of the "Poor Tour"

  • 10/7/2016 removal from the Hub.
  • 10/18/2016 removal from Adeline & Derby median.
  • 10/19/2016 removal from Shattuck [& Adeline] triangle, disputed between the parties.
  • 11/4/2016 removal from the Hub.
  • 11/7/2016 removal from City Hall steps.
  • 11/17/2016 removal from south lawn of Berkeley City Hall.
  • 12/2/2016 removal from north lawn of City Hall.
  • 12/21/2016 removal from Adeline & Oregon Street median.
  • 12/21/2016 removal from old City Hall lawn testified by Sullivan, disputed.
  • 1/6/2017 removal from Shattuck & Rose Street median.

Revelations about the background of the plaintiffs

On May 21, 2019, the three plaintiffs – Clark Sullivan, Adam Bredenberg, and Benjamin Royer – and one witness – Mike Zint – testified under oath about, among other things, their circumstances and residential status before and during their stay in Berkeley. Judge Alsup criticized this particular line of questioning: “This is very disjointed on both sides * * * You need to be explaining to the jury what happened on these occasions [when the City moved the FTCftH encampments], as opposed to all these sideshows about living in Malibu and living in Philadelphia.”

While Judge Alsup was correct to dismiss the sideshows of the case, the plaintiffs testimony provides unique insights into their age/health, current housing setup, housing history (especially how each came to be in Berkeley). These statements are sworn testimony in open court under penalty of perjury.

This is as close to the truth as one is likely to receive on the subject of homelessness.

Summary

None of the plaintiffs or Mike Zint has ever been housed in the City of Berkeley. They arrived and were immediately homeless. Only Bredenberg held a job in Berkeley.

Mike Zint

Testimony Excerpt [PDF]

Age/Health

52, no reported health problems.

Current housing/income

Residing in studio apartment in Oakland since April 19, 2017. Zint pays $226 per month for a subsidized apartment that would rent for $1,500. Obtained apartment through the Berkeley Hub [coordinated entry system now known as Housing Resource Center (HRC)].

Receives $275 general assistance, $189 food stamps.

Housing history

First homeless at age 18 in Los Angeles. Most recently became homeless in 2005 in Los Angeles, then relocated to unidentified place.

Arrived in Berkeley in 2014 to protest at Berkeley main Post Office [eventually under the group name First They Came for the Homeless]. Did that for 17 months until removed by Postal Inspection Service [April 2016].

Stayed 4 months in Vacaville home of a “person who put me on an organic diet to nurse me back to health. A friend is not an accurate description. It is a person [named] Daisy Mae.”

Returned to Berkeley to live in multiple encampments [known as the Poor Tour] between October 2016 and April 2017.

Zint has never spent a night in a Berkeley shelter.

Neither Zint nor his FTCftH community considered pooling their money to find a group rental.

Key Quotes

   Q. When you arrived, did you have sufficient funds to rent a place to live?
   A. Oh, definitely not.
   Q. Did you want to cost the City as much money as possible?
   A. My goal was to break their budget, to stop them, to get the attention of the community on the waste of money the City was using playing Homeless Whack-a-Mole.
   Q. And you wanted the cops on the scene as long as possible?
   A. Yes. It’s very expensive.
   Q. And well-intentioned community members would drop off items, including furniture?
   A. We had couches show up.

Clark Sullivan

Testimony Excerpt [PDF]

07/24/2019 Declaration [PDF]

Age/Health

58, COPD, adult diabetes, shattered leg necessitates wheelchair to get around.

Current housing/income

Lives at encampment at Adeline St. and Alcatraz Ave. [Here/There] Receives Social Security $913 per month.

Housing history

Has been homeless in San Francisco before. Lived off-and-on in an RV in San Francisco (Bayview) between 2004 and 2010.

Immediately before coming to Berkeley, lived in Oakland (Fruitvale) apartment for 3 years. Psychotic roommate physically abused Sullivan, took property, tossed it out window, no response from police. Searched for apartment online and through personal network, no success after a few months.

Started living at FTCftH encampment in October 2016. Never lived in Berkeley before October 2016.

Key Quotes

   $913 won’t even get you a room, basically, by yourself in the Bay Area. So I kind of gave up.
   Q. And when you were camped in North Berkeley on the Shattuck median, you would use the bathroom at the Safeway store across the street?
   A. Well, sure. Yes.
   Q. Now, when you camped with the group, you kept a urinal in your tent to urinate; correct?
   A. Yeah.
   Q. And what you would do with the urine, if you could, was dump it in a toilet afterward?
   A. Yes.
   Q. And if you couldn’t find a toilet to dump it in, you would find a good spot?
   A. Of course.
   Q. And that means somewhere outside?
   A. Yes.
   Q. And you acknowledge that members of your encampment were often forced to urinate and defecate on the streets because they were – there were no public bathrooms?
   A. I would say that our group was as conscientious about using the bathroom, even more so than the general public would be, because we had to – we were on site, you know.
   Q. So your – it’s your testimony that the general public defecates and urinates on the streets of Berkeley?
   A. Sure, they do.
   Q. And isn’t it true that you called ‘the dirty little secret of urban camping that nobody likes to talk about’ being the fact that there’s nowhere to go to the bathroom and you have to go in a public place?
   A. Sometimes, yes.

Benjamin Royer

Testimony Excerpt [PDF]

07/23/2019 Declaration [PDF]

Age/Health

33, placed in foster care at age 1, adopted at age 5, grew up in Roseville until age 15, placed in long-term psychiatric care. Severe sciatica necessitates wheelchair. Bipolar disorder.

Current housing/income

Resides at Here/There encampment on Adeline St. at Alcatraz Ave. Receives Social Security, about $1,000 per month. “Both shared housing and even regular apartments are outside of the scope of the income that I receive.”


Housing history

Became homeless in Sacramento on February 1, 2016. Tried Sacramento’s housing program without success. “[T]here was a lack of safety, in the primary, and the secondary was that there was no housing out there as well.”

Arrived in Berkeley on October 1, 2016, the day after he left Sacramento. Never lived in Berkeley before then. Spent 3 or 4 days living on Berkeley streets, then visited the Hub, saw FTCftH encampment there, joined FTCftH.

Key Quotes

   Q. What happened when you were at the Hub before you left?
   A. They gave me the same exact line that every other housing program that I’ve ever been to had given me.
   Q. And what was that?
   A. That the only thing that they could do in the immediate term was to give me a shelter and then, possibly, maybe, shared housing.”
   Q. Now, how can you be certain that those encampments [near Second St. & Gilman St.] didn’t get removed and cleaned up and then the people just repopulated the area? Can you be certain that that didn’t happen?
   A. From what I observed, the amount of items that were there indicated that they had been there for at least months, because from my own personal experience, when it comes to homeless areas, it takes oftentimes weeks or months for things to actually pile up in the way that they did in these areas.
   [redirect] Q. Did you observe things that you thought were hazardous or unsafe?
   A. Yes.
   Q. What kind of things did you observe?
   A. There was large scales of trash, especially some that I believe would have been highly flammable, which could have led to a serious fire issue.
   Q. Is there anything else that you observed that you thought was unhealthy or unsafe?
   A. I noticed a very strong odor I was not able to identify.

Adam Bredenberg

Testimony Excerpt [PDF]

Age/Health

28, injured back while working for UPS, couldn’t continue with that job.

Current housing/income

Permanent residence is mother’s house in Orlan [probably Oreland], Pennsylvania. Staying at Here/There encampment during trial. No income information.

Housing history

High school in suburban Philadelphia, B.Phil. from University of Pittsburgh in English. Served in Peace Corps in Namibia. Lived with mother in Orlan, then took road trip to California in 2016.

Stopped in Malibu Beach for 2 weeks at mother’s friend’s house. Sublet apartment in Modesto for 1 month, interviewed for Modesto job. Heard about FTCftH in Berkeley, came to visit in October (?) 2016. While in Berkeley, learned he didn’t get Modesto job, so stayed in Berkeley. Slept mainly in his car, then began sleeping in tent in FTCftH encampment.

Flew home to Pennsylvania 2 or 3 times, including Christmas 2016. Had no experience with the Hub. Joined 24 Hour Fitness to shower. Worked in Berkeley about 1.5 years starting January or February 2017, first at Monsen Silversmiths [Adeline St.] 30 hours per week, then Classroom Matters (Sacramento St.) up to 25 hours per week.

Did not seek services from the Hub. Had no experience with the Hub.

Key Quotes

   Q. And what efforts did you take to find housing when you were in Berkeley?
   A. Well, I think I took the efforts that would be considered normal, like looking at websites to try and find, you know, affordable opportunities. And I was also asking around the community.
   Q. Were you able to find housing during the Poor Tour, during the duration of the Poor Tour?
   A. I was not able to find anything that I would be able to afford.