The homeless in Berkeley are a very diverse group of people. Berkeley has been touted as a haven for them, a place where it is easy to be homeless. This has a
grain of truth to it, but the situation is more complex than that.
The first and most major cause of homelessness is insanity, or, more precisely,
Ronald Regan's budget cuts. As governor of California, he closed down a number of large mental asylums in the area, leaving the mentally disabled with no option but to be homeless. These are the people most frequently found living around the "homeless compound" created by the conglomerate of the I-80, the railroad and University avenue. Some of these people are very kind-hearted and seem to be treated decently by the West Berkeley crowd. Others are violent, and I have talked to an almost angelic old homeless woman who was attacked by one of the violent homeless men who live under the traffic bridge. There are a couple other homeless who live in that area who are homeless for political reasons (the government is corrupt and they don't want to be a part of it), one of whom has been living there for 30 years. The politically-motivated homeless are by far a minority, however.
Another major cause is crack. The homeless around Ashby Ave., where Berkeley borders with Oakland, have hungry stares in their eyes. I had an Ashby resident yell at me once for giving money to the homeless people there, for supporting their crack habits. The homeless man just stared at me without speaking.
The third cause of the concentration of homeless in the area is the liberal
fairly-well-off crowd that UC Berkeley
attracts. Many of the homeless who hang around Telegraph
Ave. and cater for this group of people are something like street entertainers. Some play instruments, others sell jokes for "F
EE". A couple cater to large drunk crouds, knowing how to involve large groups of people into telling their own jokes or playing games. Many people don't feel at all bad for giving these people money, and some of these homeless seem rather well dressed. Telegraph streetkids
go into this category as well (paying them is paying homage to your own childhood rebellion
No account of Berkeley homeless would be complete without mentioning the drum circle on Sproul Plaza on campus. Every night, at around 9 PM, a group of homeless people, streetkids, transients and anyone who wishes to join sit right in front of the UC administration buildings banging on barrels, pan tops and wooden sticks. This diverse group is "lead" by Hate Man, an old homeless man with a gray
beard ready to yell "I hate you" at anyone who talks to him. Occasionally, one can observe random Berkeleyites in either willing or unwilling yelling matches with him.
(I conclude with a Reductionism Disclaimer: people aren't types and aren't stuck in places)