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San Rafael homeless campers evicted from site below freeway


Authorities evicted about 20 homeless people from a camp underneath a freeway overpass in San Rafael on Tuesday.

The eviction comes as the state Department of Transportation prepares for a construction project on the Highway 101 overpass that calls for replacing the offramp at the northbound Central San Rafael exit, which the state has deemed seismically unsafe. The camp site, below the southern edge of freeway bridge, will be used as a staging area for heavy equipment during the project, said California Highway Patrol Officer Andrew Barclay.

There are additional camps below the overpass, but the homeless people living there were not asked to move because they are not in areas that will be used by construction crews, Barclay said.

Caltrans officials served the campers an eviction notice on Friday, giving them until 8 a.m. on Tuesday to vacate the site, Barclay said.

About a dozen people held signs in protest of the eviction when Caltrans officials and CHP officers arrived at the site on Tuesday morning. Authorities waited for the campers to move their belongings before hauling out any items that were left behind, Barclay said. No arrests were made.

Chrystal Gift said she had been camping at that site for the past eight months after the boat she lived on in Richardson Bay was confiscated by authorities.

“It gets tiresome, you know. People build up their world,” Gift said. “You feel like you’re OK in your home and the next thing you know, when you feel comfortable, they come in and tell you to move.”

Gift started moving her belongings out of the encampment on Sunday to another location in San Rafael, she said.

A man who goes by the name United Tennessee said he was one of the first people to start camping at the site and he “worked very hard to make this a place where people can be safe from theft and from other people coming in and bullying them.”

“We were able to watch each other’s backs,” he said.

When authorities served eviction notices last week, the mood at the camp changed, he said.

“People were so hurt,” he said. “They lashed out, destroying their own camps.”

While the site below the freeway is state property, San Rafael officials have been cleaning up trash there on a weekly basis since November and offering to connect the campers with homeless services, said Andrew Hening, a city homelessness official. He said the area below the Highway 101 overpass has become a popular camping spot for the homeless recently.

“We’re doing our best to work with the county to get housing opportunities lined up for people,” he said. “And we’re working with the county to carve out shelter capacity for these folks.”

But he said many of the campers below the freeway have been “service resistant.”

According to Hening, city and county officials offered coronavirus testing to campers at the site on Thursday. None of the tests came back positive, he said.


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