As the sun set on Friday, February 22, the residents of South Berkeley’s Here/There encampment had much to celebrate. They were commemorating the two-year anniversary of their encampment. On July 6, 2017, camp was founded by First They Came For The Homeless, a homeless-led political organizing group. The founders first set up underneath the large “HERE/THERE” sculpture that marks the border between Berkeley and Oakland on Adeline Street. After being evicted from that plot of land by BART, the original group moved yards down the road to the current spot, where they have been since.
“We believe we are the longest-standing encampment in the East Bay,” said Robin Silver, a resident of the Here/There camp. “Possibly even in the whole Bay Area.”
To celebrate two years of sustaining their camp, the group hosted what they called a Celebration of Survival to thank the neighborhood. Residents of the group credit their drug and alcohol free policy as one of the reasons their camp has survived for so long. Here/There has also received great support from their neighbors, who often come by to visit, bring them food, and advocate for them at Berkeley city council meetings. Indeed, in August of 2017, the neighborhood association Friends of Adeline organized donations from all over the city to pay for porta potties for the camp. (In December of 2018, the City of Berkeley began paying for the service.)
The Celebration of Survival lasted from 3:00-9:00 p.m. on the 22nd, with a group of 20-30 neighbors circulating throughout the event. Rivka Masori, who lives down the street from the camp, described how Here/There has helped change her children’s perspective about homelessness. “One day, I made a big pot of apple sauce that the kids delivered to the camp,” she explained. “At first they were hesitant, because they had never interacted with homeless people before. But they had a positive experience. One of the residents showed them a light show he had set up in his tent. They came back saying, ‘wow, that was so cool!’”
The residents of Here/There created a flyer for their event which they used to invite neighbors and local business owners. They also sent personal invitations to each member of the Berkeley City Council, as well as Mayor Jesse Arreguin and California State Assemblywoman, Buffy Wicks, who lives in the area. District 2 councilwoman, Cheryl Davila, attended the event. So did artists and musicians from the neighborhood, such as Steve Gillman, who created the “Here/There” sculpture after which the encampment gets its name, and muralist Edy Boone, who created the “The Invisible Becomes Visible” mural between Harper and Ellis streets in Berkeley.
“We’re doing this to break down the walls. This is not a closed encampment, it’s open to everybody,” Silver said about the celebration. “Ignorance breeds fear. Tonight, we are letting ourselves be known so that we can continue sharing what we do here.”
Alastair Boone is the Co-Editor in Chief of Street Spirit.