An Intersecting Tale: Berkeley's #WhereDoWeGo Movement Stays Fast. Homeless Sweeps Crew Go Elsewhere

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Hell no, they did not go anywhere.

It worked! Unhoused residents stuck together and refused to move, and housed people stood in solidarity. And CHP and Caltrans left.

I 80 at University in Berkeley, CA is one of the busiest stretches of highway in the country: Five lanes of traffic each way, full up or worse twenty four seven.

Nestled around this complex intersection, some hidden in the brush, some in underpasses to the freeway and its adjoining structures, a few in tents within the cloverleaves, some off side roads, resides a community of homeless individuals.

Some have been there for years, as best I can tell. Some are more recent, having been forced out of other locations in and around Berkeley.  Whatever their origin, this is where they are now, with literally nowhere left for them to go but into the Bay. Berkeley's shelters and navigation centers are full (as are all others in the Bay Area). Every underpass in adjacent Oakland seems to more than full — literally crammed with tents and RVS — Oakland's population of homeless having doubled or tripled in the last two years. Albany, next door to the north, rid itself of its homeless population by clearing out the Albany Bulb, a landfill extending out into the Bay, once home to numerous homeless.

As the unhoused population – and the trash that no government agency would pick up – increased over these last months, the inevitable outcry became louder and louder. It seemed inevitable that, like many of the unhoused communities before them which have become too visible, they too would be rousted, ousted, dispossessed of there belongings and disposed of.

But then something happened.

Andrea Henson decided to so something about it. She’s an unofficial aide to and self-describedf homeless-advocate-soulmate of, Osha Neumann, a civil rights attorney at the East Bay Community Law Center, someone who has been trying to help the local homeless population in many ways for many years now. 

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KC has moved 7 times in three weeks. She said “I've had enough and I am tired. I'm not moving.” #wheredowegoberk

The homeless people she had come to know at I-80 were caught between CALTRANS / CHP (State of California Transportation / California Police) and the Berkeley Police. CALTRANS was coming every week to “clean” and CHP was assisting by forcing them to move off the State land they occupied, while Berkeley Police were forbidding them from — even temporarily – taking up space on city-owned sidewalks nearby.  People in wheelchairs, people with disabilities, elderly, all with literally no place to go and in danger of losing everything.

Andrea had been helping the Berkeley homeless community with Osha and others for a long time, but here the proverbial straw snapped. Continued harassment had turned into far too much harassment, torture to some of its recipients.

In late August and early September she conceived of and implemented the WhereDoWeGoBerkeley (#WhereDoWeGoBerk, @WhereDoWeGoBerkeley) campaign.  She organized the homeless community.  She led a march to a townhall put on by one of the City Councilors in whose district these homeless resided.

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Homeless supporters took up the campaign and spoke at City Council:

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She put out calls for help as CALTRANS continued their cleaning sweeps campaign, and people came. She inspired and invigorated those housed who advocated for the homeless.

She encouraged others, housed and unhoused such as those who created and executed this incredible design, just days ago:

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On 10/3/19 CALTRANS posted “sweep” notices again, this time effective for all of the coming week, a particularly horrible tactic of indeterminate harassment (usually a particular or one of two days had been specified).

Andrea decided to make a stand, pitching a tent with the homeless residents…

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 resolving not to move, as did some of the residents.

Fast forward to the morning of Thursday, 10/10, amidst the chaos of of PG&E's power shutdown across Northern California. The cry went out…

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Then the trucks rolled in…

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Someone was away from his tent — CALTRANS was going to sweep in and take  it and all its contents away. But Andrea got there first:

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Then, just minutes after I had logged in for the first time that morning, processing what was happening, I saw a tweet that seemed at the moment like divine intervention:

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Here is Andrea explaining what happened yesterday, what has been happening, and why it's been happening:

“Other residents said, 'No, we're not moving…' And because so many came, and advocates came and the unhoused said 'We're not taking it.' THEY LEFT! …”

A temporary victory, perhaps, but a victory.  

No one should be told they cannot be anywhere.  Yesterday Andrea Henson made that message reverberate.

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There is more of the story than I can relate here.  Check out the WhereDoWeGoBerk twitter timeline for context and much more.