With People’s Park walled off, its community keeps mutual aid alive on Telegraph

Supriya Yelimeli


A new free store at the former park in the Dwight Way median. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

When a homeless man stopped by the triangle park at Dwight Way and Telegraph Avenue in the middle of the night this week in search of a blanket, Gregory Clark was quickly able to provide him with support.

Clark, who has been homeless for over a year, began volunteering at the newly created free store soon after UC Berkeley closed down and walled off People’s Park with a massive law enforcement presence two weeks ago.

It’s an outpost of mutual aid efforts that had a home at the park for over 50 years, including a more recent iteration of a community kitchen that provided daily hot meals. Since the park’s closure, volunteers have operated the free store around the clock, offering hot meals, harm reduction supplies, clothing and cold weather goods.

“This has been the last sign of hope and active resistance,” Clark said.

He, like many others, was out of town visiting friends and family for the holidays when law enforcement entered the park and pushed out the remainder of people occupying the area in resistance.

The move to build a 17-foot tall shipping container wall around the park prompted a visceral reaction from many students and neighbors returning to the Southside, where the park is now completely obscured from view between Haste Street and Dwight Way. UC Berkeley plans to build a 1,100-bed student and supportive housing complex at the site, though the project is on hold pending a legal challenge before the state Supreme Court.

It was also a blow to people who relied on the park to find community and services, many of which have moved to other locations in the neighborhood. Food Not Bombs now provides food at the corner of Haste Street and Telegraph Avenue in the evenings, while 4eversoupBerkeley has been providing hot soup at rallies on Dwight Way in the weeks since the closure.

Brady Allen, 71, who attended UC Berkeley and grew up in East Oakland, stopped by the free store to find a few granola bars on Thursday evening. He’s currently homeless, and spends time on the Cal campus and Southside to find services. Others came for a hot meal, and students, housed and unhoused community members dropped off donations intermittently.

Harm reduction supplies, like Narcan, are available at the free store and mutual aid hub. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

The free store is currently looking for cold weather gear, pre-prepared meals that are easy to heat up on the portable stove, men’s clothing in sized large and XXL, and other items suitable for the season, where temperatures have been dropping to the low 40’s overnight.

Enrique Marisol, a prominent park activist, said the store is currently staffed around the clock to make sure there are no disruptions. The Dwight triangle park, known as the smallest park in Berkeley, has been fenced off since at least 2019 when a bench was removed and the area was downgraded to a median.

“I trust a lot of people out here to take what they need, I’m more concerned about the city taking our stuff,” Marisol said.

A city spokesperson did not respond to questions asking whether the land is currently open for public use, but groups have used the triangle over the last two weeks for a punk concert, memorials for people in the park community and ongoing mutual aid.

The triangle is adjacent to a plot of land on the southwest corner of Dwight and Telegraph that served as a precursor to People’s Park. In 1968, groups tilled the vacant plot and created a small park in honor of Chuck Herrick, an environmental activist who died that year.

A memorial for David Leo Schacht, a People’s Park community member who died on Jan. 9 at the age of 40. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

It was officially called C. P. Herrick Peace & Freedom Park, and organizers served free soup and bread at the lot for a few weeks until the city shut down the project and moved the park to the median triangle. There have been city proposals to close off the southbound slip lane and extend a public plaza in the area, or make the park a home for an ousted chess club that previously gathered nearby, but neither plan has come to fruition.

Current activities at the triangle harken back to its past, and students and locals who are drawn to the park’s message have been congregating there to learn more and contribute. About 50 people held a vigil beside the shipping container wall Thursday night to honor Tortuguita, a 26-year-old activist who was shot and killed by police in Atlanta last year during the “Stop Cop City” occupation, a protest movement that many park activists see as a parallel struggle to maintain and reclaim what they believe is public land.

Sarah Weaver, a volunteer at the free store, recently wrote an undergraduate thesis about People’s Park and its legacy of mutual aid and solidarity work. She said unhoused people in the area, as well as students at the university, need mutual aid to survive.

“People rely on this park so much,” Weaver said. “You could be completely fine under the eyes of the university, but you’re actually still struggling.”

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Supriya Yelimeli www.berkeleyside.org City,Home: highlight,People’s Park,Southside Berkeley

2024-01-20 00:25:00 , Berkeleyside

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