Things We Don’t Always See

I visited Berkeley recently—well, on the border between Albany and Berkeley, in the East Bay of Northern California’s Bay Area. My son lives in graduate housing there, a massive labyrinth of cute residential housing. My daughter was cat-sitting for him and in a short walk, came across an unhoused encampment.

I did a little research. Of the East Bay cities, Oakland has the most homeless (114 per 1,000 people) and did more than any of the other cities to bring unhoused people indoors. Berkeley is second with 86 unhoused per 1,000 persons. “Over the past several years, Oakland increased the number of community cabin sites, or tiny homes, opened pallet shelters and created more RV safe-parking sites. In 2020, the city opened Clifton Hall, a 63-unit former college dormitory that was transformed into housing for homeless families and seniors.” They’ve also bought hotels to house the homeless. In Berkeley, with its ivy-league university, perhaps we feel the contrast more keenly.

Frankly, I always find an encampment in a city fascinating. I like where the edges of civilization get frayed. I know it represents suffering but there are always those who say they don’t want to be brought inside, who ask to please be allowed to camp out. In Mongolia, there are yert encampments at the edges of the city, Ulaanbataar, which keeps building high rise apartments and trying to move them in so they won’t make fires out of anything they can burn, which turns the city air very toxic.

I think it’s the same draw as toward Wanderer or gypsy life. Of course, I have Wanderers and Free Bards in my fantasy fiction due to the rolling stone sympathy I hold. How many among you readers have the same? Like wild horses rather than those corralled, the undomesticated maybe holds a little piece of all our souls.

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