Remembering William Barclay Caldeira — aka ‘300’

Memorial for William Barclay Caldeira on the steps of the Berkeley Police Department on May 24. Photo: Alastair Boone

William Barclay Caldeira, a Berkeley resident known to many for his deep commitment to justice and equality, died on Sunday, May 19. He was 51 years old.

Barclay Caldeira — who went by the name “300” — was homeless. On the day of his passing, a number of his friends and neighbors saw him sitting at a bus stop on Adeline Street near Ward Street, looking unwell. Eventually somebody called the police, and he was picked up by an ambulance and taken to Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, where he died later that night. According to the Alameda County Coroner’s office, the cause of death was a pulmonary embolism — a clot had blocked a blood vessel in his lungs.

Barclay Caldeira was born and raised in Berkeley, and graduated from Berkeley High School in 1986. As a young man in the ‘90s, he was a well-known dancer who frequented dance clubs around the Bay Area. He ran with a hip crowd — he was close childhood friends with the acclaimed jazz saxophonist Joshua Redman, and also became friendly with Haakon, Crown Prince of Norway, who studied at UC Berkeley in the late 90s.

He loved all kinds of music and could dance to anything. “Once I asked him ‘What style of dance did you do?’,” said a close personal friend who wished to remain anonymous. “His response was, ‘My own!’”

Barclay Caldeira got the nickname “300” from the years he worked as a bicycle messenger in San Francisco. Each messenger was assigned a number and his was 300 — a title he embraced for the rest of his life.

Barclay Caldeira became homeless as an adult and spent at least a decade living on the streets. While homeless, he loved gardening and landscaping, and spent hours every day maintaining the grounds around municipal buildings, such as the Berkeley Police Department. He also spent hours at the West Berkeley Library. He devoured all kinds of books, from fantasy and science fiction to historical and philosophical texts.

A natural activist, he became deeply involved in city life while he was living on the street. He was intensely involved in Berkeley politics and was appointed to the Homeless Commission in 2017. He also ran for a seat on the Rent Stabilization Board in 2018, but lost. Barclay Caldeira attended almost every City Council meeting, and listened on his radio when he could not make it in person. He spoke to the council brazenly, drawing from his knowledge of politics as well as his own experience to call out injustice wherever he saw it.

“I keep thinking about how the system failed someone with his intellect, his sense of humor, his warmth, and his commitment to serving the community,” said Berkeley resident Igor Tregub, who serves on the Berkeley Rent Board and the Zoning Adjustments Board. All while he struggled to bring to the light the system that ended up doing him in.”

Barclay Caldeira’s death came just days after the advocacy group Consider the Homeless held a memorial for all the known homeless individuals who have passed away on the streets of Berkeley in the last 12 months. Barclay Caldeira’s passing makes 14 such deaths. Milinda Rodgers and Eric Sibbold also died in May of 2019.

The end of Barclay Caldeira’s life was tumultuous. He was evicted in March after a lengthy legal battle with his landlord that started in 2016, after moving off the street into an apartment with a friend. However, the landlord soon tried to evict him, using a number of illegal intimidation tactics in an attempt to force him out, such as showing up at his apartment unannounced and attempting to enter, and chasing him down an alleyway with a wrench in his hand, according to the testimony in one of Barclay Caldeira’s court filings.

Barclay Caldeira represented himself throughout the first year of this process, poring over legal documents to craft an argument that could save his tenancy. Ultimately, he was unsuccessful. During this lengthy legal battle, Barclay Caldeira became the master tenant of the apartment, which increased his rent substantially. Eventually he was unable to pay the higher amount, and ended up back on the street.

Many believe that his death could have been prevented had he not been driven back to homelessness.

“I firmly believe that if [his eviction] wasn’t the direct cause of his death, it was the next step down from that,” said David Hall, a lawyer from the East Bay Community Law Center who represented him through a number of his lawsuits, starting in 2018. Hall said despite losing his own housing, Barclay Caldeira came up with a creative legal argument that the lawyers in his office are still using to keep other vulnerable tenants in their homes.

“He sacrificed his life to make a difference. We have to use his death to make a difference,” said City Councilwoman Cheryl Davila.

Davila organized a vigil to honor Barclay Caldeira’s life on May 24. The service was held on the steps of the Berkeley Police Department, where she met Barclay Caldeira for the first time. “He was sitting right here and he had his little radio going, listening to the council meeting,” she said, recalling that he immediately offered to distribute her campaign literature throughout Berkeley. “I feel like Barclay was part of the reason why I got elected.”

A diverse crowd of both city employees and Berkeley citizens joined the vigil. Speaker after speaker stepped up to honor Barclay Caldeira and share favorite stories: he was sweet and caring; he had a sharp sense of humor; he was a keen observer and a master storyteller; he was whip smart with an encyclopedic mind, well versed in biblical texts as well as philosophical ones.

“He knew exactly what was going on in the council and on the street,” Davila said.

Multiple people told the group assembled that, sometimes, Barclay Caldeira would approach them with stories that seemed totally unbelievable —something happening in city politics or a personal anecdote. But these stories always turned out to be true.

“Sometimes what he’d tell me was disturbing,” said Berkeley resident Louis Grim. “The more I’d hear the more I’d realize that he knew what he was talking about…. [I’d think] he was having a paranoid delusion, but then I came to find out it was actually true.” Other speakers echoed the same sentiment: “Everything he told me was true;” “He had been right all along;” and “He spoke the truth like a perfect bell ringing.”

Barclay Caldeira was respected both by people on the streets and in the halls of power. Councilwoman Sophie Hahn, City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley, Deputy City Manager Paul Buddenhagen, and Police Chief Andrew Greenwood all attended his memorial.

“I don’t know very many people who could bring such a politically diverse group together. It’s a testament to his strength and willingness to engage,” said Berkeley resident Andrea Prichett.

The memorial was full of warmth and love for Barclay Caldeira, but it was underscored by an intense feeling of exasperation. Many expressed outrage that the city is not doing more to help its growing homeless population.

“He was a whistleblower, and the city failed to protect him,” said a UC Berkeley graduate who had formed a close friendship with 300. “Who can we blame except ourselves?”

Alastair Boone is the editor-in-chief of ‘Street Spirit’ where this obituary first appeared.