Former Cal Grad Student Finds Home and Community on Four Wheels

A portrait of Yesica Prado holding her Yashica Electro 35 analog camera.  (Christian Torres)

As part of the SF Homeless Project we’re once again concentrating coverage around housing affordability this June. Here's a first-person account of what it's like to be a grad student and live in an RV in the Berkeley Marina.

My name is Yesica Prado and I am 26 years old. I moved to the Bay Area four years ago from the South Side of Chicago, but I was born in Mexico City. I came to live at the Berkeley Marina after my second semester of graduate school.

I had bounced around the bay, chasing stories while studying at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. I worked the night shift at Whole Foods in San Francisco, and went to school during the day for a year before deciding to quit the job, the rent and the long commute, and buy an RV last summer.

I lost my housing in San Francisco more than a year ago after not keeping up with rent, but I never considered myself homeless. Being on the streets gave me a mission. It helped me stay alert about what really happens in our cities.

I would get shamed at school sometimes for not reading the news, but living from phone charge to phone charge forces compromises. I used the  power on my cellphone to navigate the cities, hunting for story sources, food, restrooms and gyms to complete daily tasks and homework.

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Today I'm part of a community of four families, including nine children, living out of eight vehicles in a parking lot at the marina.

As humans, we all want to be directors of our own dream. Our relationships with one another help us grow: financially, physically, spiritually and morally.

We have created a network of neighbors, family, friends, comrades. The Berkeley Marina Friends on Wheels is an example of how poverty is a shared experience in the world, regardless of education, color or nationality.

Community meetings are held weekly, and neighbors gather to share concerns and issues that happened throughout the week. Amber leads the discussions, encouraging neighbors to know their rights on the street. (Christian Torres)
Kevin Sweeney, the grandfather in the Bockover family, prepares and eats a ribeye steak from  Whole Foods Market. He enjoys the small pleasures of life: good food and dancing. He works with his son-in-law in San Francisco. (Yesica Prado)
Christian Torres, Prado's friend, smiles for a portrait inside her RV at the Berkeley Marina. Their daily routine is to make breakfast with their camping stove, hit the gym, shower, commute around the city for food, and linger at coffee shops or libraries to charge up battery packs and electronics for the day. (Yesica Prado)
Paul Schrager Jr., age 5, plays inside an inflatable ball outside his motorhome at the Hs Lordships parking lot. Paul was the first child in the Berkeley Marina Friends on Wheels. He attends pre-kindergarten at the Berkeley Technology Academy. (Yesica Prado)
Christian and Jim Hauso prepare hamburgers and hot dogs at a community barbecue on Sunday afternoon at Hs Lordships. (Yesica Prado)
The Hs Lordships parking lot is a popular spot to come race and make car doughnuts. (Yesica Prado)
Paul reads an encyclopedia about animals before going to bed. While living at the marina, Paul has learned about the animals, plants and geology you can find here. (Yesica Prado)

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