By Maddie Greene
“I’ll be home for Christmas” promises the song, but not everyone has a home for the holidays. Berkeley’s Eugene Green, 55 and technically homeless, loves Christmas so much that he’s bringing the celebration to him this year. While others were still considering their Halloween costumes, Green was planning a community singalong scheduled to take place Dec. 22 at 6 p.m. near his Southwest Berkeley tent.
“I’m working on making a happy place for people to come and sing carols and feel the Christmas spirit,” said Green.
A 17-year Berkeley resident, Green has made a dead-end street not far from the Aquatic Park his home for two years. In that time he’s charmed a significant portion of his neighborhood.
“He’s a man with a big heart and even bigger smile who is always looking out for others despite the obvious hardships in his own life,” said Stephanie Morales, an employee of nearby digital banking company Access Softek, where Green sweeps the sidewalks and performs odd jobs.
“I have never once seen Eugene angry. Not even after he got pepper-sprayed, not after folks have said unkind words to him, never.”
Workers in the area almost all point to Green’s propensity for song when talking about him. Another Access Softek employee, Akilah Hill, shared her first impressions of Green: “About a week after I started my job, I heard someone singing ‘Over the Rainbow’ at the top of his lungs. It was smooth, on key and very loud. I found myself singing along and it occurred to me that I had never, ever liked that song until that moment.”
Although Green sings for change near places like Peet’s and Berkeley Bowl, he prefers to work. In addition to sweeping for several local businesses, he hauled junk in his pickup truck before its mid-December theft, and has considered walking local dogs.
“Eugene is a giver, not a taker,” said Hill. “One day I heard him ask a co-worker for some money. It’s the only time I heard him ask for anything. About a week later he came back and paid her back the $20! I just thought this showed so much about his character. He only asked when he really needed something and any other time, in any other situation he is happy to work for his income.”
After a recent romantic breakup and a frightening collapse that led to a diagnosis of diabetes, Green started focusing on his health. He happily shows off his appointment reminders for local clinics and dentists, excited by the prospect of professional care. He is also devoted to his dog, Jack, and the two of them keep a watchful eye over their neighborhood. While he can’t prevent every smashed car window that occurs in the area, he tries to set a high standard for what’s expected of neighbors.
That sense of community moved Green to plan a Christmas carol sing-along in his neighborhood. By mid-October he had chosen a date and begun designing the flyer he now distributes throughout the area. Near his tent, tarps and plywood disguise the Christmas tableau he’s preparing for the event: a small replica fireplace complete with hooks for stockings and a Christmas tree decked with lovingly handmade bells and leaves made from aluminum foil and found objects. Donated ornaments and silver paint wish everyone a Merry Christmas brighten the black tarp behind his tent.
“Jack and I want to make a Christmas for the people,” said Green. “I’m working on making a happy place for people to come and sing carols and feel the Christmas spirit.”
He points to his love of Berkeley as a driving force for the event. “Berkeley is such a good place filled with so many beautiful people,” said Green. “I call it Beautiful Berkeley. Jack and I appreciate everyone in this community so much. We just want to give back.”
Community members are invited to join Green, his dog Jack, and other Berkeley residents Tuesday, Dec. 22 at 6 p.m. at the corner of Fourth St. and Allston. Donations of seasonal decorations are welcome now until the event.
For more information contact Maddie Greene at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maddie Greene works in an office a block away from where Eugene lives, and met him when he started sweeping the office sidewalks each Monday for a little money.
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