Corona Crisis: On The Front Lines With the Homeless in Berkeley.

What follows are excerpts from four report backs by Andrea Henson, of Where Do We Go Berkeley, (@WhereDoWeGoBerk, Facebook) whom I first spotlighted in October, 2019.

She has been on the front lines, fighting for and with local homeless people to create conditions where they can live in peace, in sanitary conditions, and be able to access health care when they need it. Let us simply say that it has not been easy.

Now, with the corona virus threatening to overrun the country, she has managed, somehow, to step up her efforts. She's been providing even more support to a community of some 100-150 homeless individuals nestled in brush, under the overpasses, and on scraps of land around, north and south of the I-80 & University interchange in Berkeley, CA – while somehow retaining her sanity and health.

If you have time I urge you to check out the full reports (linked as the headlines below), to see how much there is to do and how badly our standard support mechanisms have been failing. (The reports have some great pictures embedded in the PDF files that I am unable to extract).

If you would like to support her efforts you can donate to this GoFundMe.

If you would like to leave comments of interest, support and/or encouragement mark them as such in the comments and I will forward them on to Andrea.



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Andrea, left, helping out a camp resident.

Update: Four Encampments in Berkeley (on the eve of shelter in place). March 16th..

Today, I visited the four encampments (Gilman, Ashby/Shellmound, Seabreeze, and under the I-80 underpass) in Berkeley before the Shelter in Place began. I knew that I needed to get out there to assess the situation at each camp and to calm fears. Folks were happy to see that they were not forgotten. No one really knew what was going on and some had heard news reports. No one has electricity and few have phones, leaving some unaware of current events…

Two people were in the hospital last week. One with a severe respiratory infection and the other with severe strep throat. One is with a family member the other is back in camp…

One 19 year old woman has an extraordinarily severe staph infection. Oozing sores cover her entire body. The residents brought her to me as she has some sort of diminished capacity. She had no shoes and was very hungry and sick… A medic, who helps the Berkeley Free Clinic, reviewed my photographs last night. He said “This is possibly the worst case I have ever seen. I served in a charity hospital in Mogadishu for 9 months.”

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Near the I-80 and University cloverleaf.

Encampment Update, Tuesday, March 17th – 19th.

The Governor's shelter in place began at 12 am March 17, 2020. That morning, I received a call from a Berkeley homeless woman who was placed in an Oakland motel by BACS/Sage program. She said that BACS refused to continue to pay for her hotel voucher despite the Governor's order to put homeless individuals in hotels..

I had to advocate for her so I drove to the motel talked to the manager while the woman attended her cardiology appointment. Yes, she has a heart problem. I was informed that she would be put out… Angry and frustrated, I emailed her worker but I cc'ed the Mayor, half of city council, the director of Caltrans and Jamie Almanza, the head of BACS… because I wanted everyone to see what was happening… In only 5 minutes, the worker called me and she had a placement for the young woman and extended her stay at the hotel…

After leaving the hotel, I arrived at Ashby/Shellmound to convince a resident to go to the hospital. This young woman, traumatized by police and medical professionals, did not want to go to emergency. She refused to go in an ambulance the three times they were called the previous week. I convinced her to go and told her that I would follow her in my car while she rode in the ambulance. I called 911…

The Emeryville FD would not enter her tent. I told them she was covered from head to toe with open, oozing sores and staph but they said they would not go in her tent…

She did come out of her tent with wearing only panties and a fleece vest with no shirt underneath. She walked barefoot through the cold mud for around 50 feet until she reached the sidewalk…

Later that night, I received a call to pick up the young woman from Alta Bates Hospital. Immediately, after I spoke at City Council that evening, I picked her up. I had to take her back to camp where residents put up an extra tent that I had in my car, they added blankets and prepared it for her. They prepared a warm and clean place for her in the middle of the night. Where else could she go at midnight? If you are homeless, you go back to the street. She waited in my car until her camp was ready. I left after 1 am…

Where Do We Go Berkeley ordered 4 additional porta potties to be delivered to 4 encampments at a cost of $852 a month (once a week cleaning, dumping and hand sanitizer refill)…

Andrew arrived with 50 packed lunch bags with 2 breakfast and 2 lunch servings…I delivered EVERYTHING to Ashby/Shellmound, I80 Underpass and Seabreeze encampments. While I delivered everything it was not enough for everyone. I needed more food because there wasn't enough…

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Another resident Andrea supports,underneath the University overpass, forced to move multiple times last year by Caltrans and Berkeley sweeps

TALES FROM THE FRONT LINE – A REPORT TO OUR DONORS & SUPPORTERS. March 26th – 27th

I'm going to rent a U-Haul and pick up a load of furniture for a resident, who just moved into a one bedroom apartment…

A woman and man, who live in their car, called me because they are concerned they have COVID-19 symptoms and want to be tested. They don't have a thermometer so they cannot take their temperature…

I wake up at six so I can to the Walmart in Richmond by 7 AM when they open.

Today, I bought eight tents and butane stoves so that residents can boil water if COVID-19 hits our camps. A young woman has been begging me for a tent for weeks. I bought her a tent during the winter using our GoFundMe Funds, but the mice ate it full of holes and now run all over her while she sleeps. And she's not the only one. Except with other people it's rats eating holes in their tent and having babies in their mattresses. One man sleeps on a mattress where he can feel the rats moving inside. One of these 8 tents will go to him…

I've run out of groceries. I'm only able to distribute to half the camps I'm serving. I'm exhausted. I don't get home till 6:30 pm. I will have someone else pick up 150 bags from the Berkeley Food Network and deliver them to my house tomorrow…

… thanks to whoever you may be, who dropped off cases of Girl Scout cookies I found when I opened the door this morning. You also made me cry. I told the residents we have Girl Scout Cookies and they were beyond elated. I will add a box of cookies to all the grocery bags this week!

A glimpse into what keeps me going … March 28, 2020

7 am – Noon Saturday Morning – after COVID-19 Scare, After Handing Out Groceries, Carrying Groceries and Moving Furniture – Literally this is what it is like. By Noon I pack groceries and prepare for this week's trash pick up with Caltrans…

Today, I write about what keeps me going and who supports me each day… Thank you for your patience and support…

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Osha Neumann

I think about calling my best friend, mentor,  supporter, and colleague, Osha Neumann. He is my social justice soul mate and who I talk to all day long. Since COVID-19 quarantine, he is the first person I call each morning during this crisis…

Then I think about my ray of sunshine…  I think about… Paul Boden, from the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP)… Paul and WRAP support us, activists and advocates who work tirelessly without pay or much support. Paul will always ask “how can we help you” or “how can we support you.”…

When I feel like quitting, when the world is mean, I call Paul. He is truly a bad ass and a man of integrity.

I think about Ms. LaTonya West who lives at the Seabreeze encampment. Ms. West is fun, strong and wise. No one “fucks” with Ms. West. That is truth. When I was picking up rats to take to City Council because I was frustrated that trash had not been picked up, Ms. West said “Andrea, be nice. You know we are always nice.” So when the Mayor told me to pick up the rats from the table, I heard Ms. West's voice and picked them up and threw them away in the trash can next to the podium. We always say we are twins and I have enormous respect for her.

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Andrea at City Council. Pleading to pick up the damned trash.

So when people say to me “Andrea how do you do it?” I want to tell you that I have a passion or a flame inside of me that pushes me to love and care. I LOVE being in the streets and solving problems. I love all the spiritual treasures people share with me on the street. I love fighting for what is right and not what is popular. I cannot wait until I get my bar number so that I can finally practice law. I am so ready to go to court.

I better get up. Maria from Copwatch is on her way to do harm reduction at Gilman, deliver groceries and assess whether anyone needs any help. I will prepare her grocery bags and give her a quarantine package – tent, burner and groceries for her outreach today. Sending out the Girl Scout cookies today!

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So there you go. A few vingettes.

If you would like to support her efforts you can donate to this GoFundMe.

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Andrea dressed for the Corona Virus.