This week’s Best of the East Bay People Issue celebrates some of the region’s most inspiring residents. But you will be similarly moved by Darwin BondGraham’s news feature on our most vulnerable neighbors, the forgotten men and women of the East Bay.
As the cost of living surges, more people than ever find themselves on the streets. For his piece, BondGraham spoke with individuals living underneath our freeways — and the harassment they experience from government agencies such as Caltrans. It’s a powerful story.
I often walk underneath these freeways, and I recently met a man who goes by the name “Easy,” who lives under Interstate 880 near the Express offices. He said that Caltrans will come “every two weeks,” accompanied by police, and the agency has confiscated his belongings three times during his three years living on the streets.
“Once they took the tent, everything,” he told me.
Easy only earns $397 a month in government assistance. Sometimes, he uses that money to put himself up at a hotel for a week just to escape — “wherever’s the cheapest” — and the cheapest is $475 a week these days.
He told me that he’d like a job. What can regional officials and leaders do? “Help the real homeless who still want to make something out of themselves,” he said. “It’s hard to get a job.”
Part of the reason employment is so challenging for the 54-year-old is because he has a record. He’s been convicted and incarcerated. Easy wouldn’t discuss the details, only to say that he’s been “shot seven times.” He’s done all sorts of work over the years in an attempt to make ends meet: landscaping, building cabinets, gutting houses. But he’d like something steady.
His one-year-old Chihuahua, the obedient Lil Easy, darted along the sidewalk while we chatted, a USB cord tied around his neck for a collar. The two of them sleep in a grey and orange tent that blends into downtown’s bleak concrete milieu.
Easy still has his youth, despite years on the street, and belies his age, what with his blue sweatpants and a jacket, skull cap, and an orange plug in his left ear. But life on the streets don’t live up to his name.
“It seems like it gets harder,” he explained. “There’s more tent people out there.”
He also admitted that the moving around from hotels to tents to new camps is draining.
“But I ain’t going nowhere.”