Trespassing on a Public Bench

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Bertha, 1951-

“Say what?!”

This is my famous bench. Everything you see here, the cart, blankets, clothes, the radio, is mine. She crochets while talking, a thick vibrant blue thread in her lap. Over there, she frees one hand and points behind her without looking, is the city council, that white building. Whenever they have their meetings, they can look out the windows and see me. I am here, always here on my bench. The first time they arrested me, I was also here, on this bench.

Let me tell you a funny story about it. Well, funny and not funny. One day, two police officers wearing black came over. One tall, the other Asian.

‘You’re trespassing on this bench!’ they tell me.
‘Say what?!’
‘You’re trespassing on this bench!’
‘How is it even possible to trespass on a public bench?!’ I asked.

It must be a joke, I thought the first time it happened. The second time I was arrested for it happened on Martin Luther King Street in Berkeley. The third time in Oakland, minding my own business. Trespassing on a public bench! Tell me, have you ever heard of something more ridiculous?

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A Nobody

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Bertha, 1951-

“On the street, if you are not a vet, or have HIV or substance abuse, you are a nobody.”


Off the street, you are a nobody if you don’t have money, or family and friends. On the street, if you’re not a vet, or have HIV or substance abuse, you are a nobody. To get help, you have to fit into some program. Take Shelter Plus Care, across the street from here. They help certain people, give them SSI checks, housing, food, clothing, while I am still here outside. A nobody.

They are raising millions and billions of dollars for AIDS research, but what about us? The people of this city don’t seem to care. Start by showing more compassion. Change priorities, make us, homeless people, a priority. We are not nothings or incidentals. We are human beings like everyone else, not a statistic.

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Q & A

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Bertha, 1951-

“Biggest Joy in Life: Living!”

Time on the Street: 12-15 years, give or take.
Most Proud Of: My accomplishments in life with the limitation I had.
Hobbies: Crocheting. I used to love to sew, but for that I need my eyesight back
Past Hobbies: Dancing, lots of different dances
Music: Anita Baker, Alysha Keys, Mariah Carey, Natalie Cole . . . I like a lot of them.
Admires: My son! He is a good kid, he hasn’t been in trouble, which is admirable in this day and age, and very rare.
Biggest Joy in Life: Living!
Kind Moment: I had a lot of kind moments. How do you define kindness? Well, I guess whenever people help you emotionally or financially without being insulting when they do it.
Unkind Moments: When people are demeaning. Well, they can’t demean me, but they can try to. Like it’s your fault you’re out here when they don’t know the circumstances.
Biggest Regret: I don’t really have any regrets. I’m sorry that I am out here, but that was unforeseen circumstances, there wasn’t much I could do about it.
Humor: You’ve got to have humor, or you don’t survive this life.
Thought about the Future: Well, I am hoping I’ll be housed (laughs). And I won’t be sitting on my famous bench.
Title to your Life Story: Shining Bright

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