Street Juice: Until Car Crash, Berkeley Homeless Camp Ran On Solar Power

Matt Bigler
March 10, 2020 - 5:00 am

One homeless camp in Berkeley illustrates just how creative many have become in order to manage life on the street, and how quickly those creative solutions can be destroyed. 

Until recently, there were five 250-watt solar panels at the Here There homeless camp that provided an electrical supply to the longstanding site's residents, said Joe Pendleton, the solar expert there. 

The camp has established rules for residents and vets anyone who seeks to settle on the plot near the Ashy BART station. 

Related: Part One: Off-The-Grid Camp Wires Into Electrical Netowrk

Residents there have been working on the solar panel project for three years, Pendleton said. 

The community’s independent grid has at times been more reliable than services their housed neighbors use.

“When PG&E did their rolling blackouts, some of our supporters here in the community were charging phones in our kitchen,” said Pendleton. “We had 40 cell phones in our kitchen from neighbors that bring us food and just were like, ‘hey my phone’s dying, can I charge my battery?’ And we definitely did.”

The solar panels had provided some stability and self-reliance to residents until a car recently plowed into the renewable energy source. 

Car destroys solar panels at Berkeley homeless camp
Matt Bigler/KCBS Radio

A hybrid car drove off the road and smashed into the solar set-up and one tent. Fortunately, no one was inside the tent at the time but the panels are now out of commission.

Residents are asking supporters in the community for donations to get things up and running again.

“We’re able to run refrigerators and microwaves in full sun, all of our charging need," Pendleton said. "We all have power in our tents. We don’t have to worry about where to charge, and hang out at coffee shops.”