Life on Shattuck Ave, Berkeley

An Interview with Laylane

By Marcus McAlpin

Outside of a Starbucks, I couldn’t help but notice the colossal contrast between the wealthy students having a late coffee, and the woman sitting across the table from me. Laylane, a 19-year-old homeless person residing in Berkeley California, had no problem in engaging in an in-depth dialogue regarding to her well being as a street-dwelling person. Her dark brown skin almost shimmered in the imminent rising of the moon, as she told me the truths about her circumstances and the truths of her emotional roller coaster. I would like to think most people are like myself, and take time to contemplate the lifestyles of the many, but in actuality it’s quite difficult to fully understand such a complex condition. Speaking to Laylane was not only heartbreaking, but eye opening to a world most walk right by on a daily basis. Because somebody is resting their head to sleep on Shattuck or Center, does not negate their status as a human being. The more knowledge we have about these lifestyles, the better understanding we have. Bridging the gap between the fortunate and less fortunate is crucial to our sense of community and our sense of self.

What’s your name?


Uhh Laylane Laylane?


Where are you from originally?


Do you stay in Berkeley now mainly or…


Would you consider yourself a house-free person? Or are you in a house sometimes?

L: House-free.

How did that develop?

Umm I had left my dad’s due to like family issues and stuff like that. And I just like, if I was going to get my stuff together, I would do it my way, instead of doing it everyone else’s way, you know?

So it was your own conscious choice?


How old do you think that developed, like, in your mind, that you didn’t want to go with this straightforward system everyone else was doing?

I was about umm… 10? When I started saying I don’t like this. Cause I started to notice patterns. I was in LA with my auntie, and it was like, it was an everyday pattern we had! It was like get up, wash face, brush teeth, get dressed, school, home, homework, park, extra curricular activities, dinner, bed, cycle repeat. Do the whole thing again.

So, that was our pattern, and I didn’t like it! When I was 10 years old, I was like you know what, no! So I switched it, what I did, I would get up, I would brush my teeth first, and then I’d wash my face, I’d switch up the order of operation. So yeah, I was about 10 when I started doing things my way.

Do you think um… by doing it your own way, did your family or whoever was around you, did they start to notice that early on? Like you doing things differently than everyone else in the family, everyone else in the house?

No, nobody noticed because I was always just my “dad’s daughter.” Like I never got a chance to be, just Laylane you know. I was always “oh, I know who you are! You’re so and so’s daughter!” And I’m just like no! You know, I couldn’t stand it. So I started doing things to make people notice me, you know?

What kind of things did you start to do for people to notice you?

I started to, like act up, just a little bit. And then like, once I saw that that wasn’t working, I was younger, I started broader things, like I’d run away, I’ve umm.. cut, just to make people see me have some sort of sense of control in what I was doing and stuff. As far as the cutting goes.

Are you still in communication with anyone from your family, like your dad?

Yeah I won’t talk to my mom… my brother and sisters I don’t really talk to that much.

But you and your dad still talk from time to time?

Yeah, every now and then. So in my thing, being house free is not ok… it’s not. And there’s various reasons why. You have people who tend to want to pick on you all the time, you have people wanted to think you’re crap, you have people calling you dogs just because you sleep on the sidewalk, cause apparently if you don’t have a house you have to become an insomniac and stay up all night. So that’s where I think being house free is not ok.

So you don’t mind sleeping on the street, the actual comfort doesn’t bug you, it’s more of how people react to how you are out here?

(Nods).. sure

If we did live in a society where there wasn’t a stigma for that, and it was just an accepted norm, do you think you’d be happier with being house free?

I’d be more happy in a house But I wouldn’t mind… like think about it, when you go camping, you’re basically living outside for the 3 or 4 weeks that’ you’re camping! So it’s basically like you’re homeless, but you’re camping, so you know I wouldn’t mind doing that.

But you’d like having a place to go back to at the end?


Are you taking any steps to become not house free anymore?

I am.

What kind of steps, I don’t even know what you would have to do

(laughs) Well I use to be a foster child, but I left the system, not legally, like I didn’t go to court, so my social worker and my lawyer are still working on trying to get my… ID and birth certificate and my social security card.

Once you have those what would be your next step?

I could apply for a job, like working with kids. Cause I like working with kids! It’s the teenagers I can’t stand (laughs).

So you say you’re 19, is that relatively young for the people you hang out with?

Well, all these guys are like 10,000 years older than I am, in theory… (laughs)… umm it’s not weird, they’ve all become family.

So there’s a strong community among you and your friends?

Yes. Because I do understand that everyone’s different, I do understand that people are more fortunate and less fortunate, I do understand that. And I understand how to treat those that are either less fortunate or more fortunate, you could be more fortunate and you can be the nicest person ever, or you can be less fortunate and you can also be the nicest person ever. If that makes sense?

Completely, they don’t necessarily categorize together.

Yes! Cause if I see it, cause if you’ve noticed, we’ll sit here and be hungry, and we’ll ask people if they can spare their left overs, cause we’re hungry! And I know you can hear us, I know you can hear us. We can’t even get a head nod, or a shake. Like there’s a couple people that will be like oh no I’m sorry. But for the most part, they act stuck up and like we don’t exist! I don’t like that.

That’s a big part of what we’re trying to convey here too, is that everybody is a human being, nobody deserves to be looked over as if they don’t exist.


So have you, in your house free days, have you just been in Berkeley or have you have been in Oakland too?

I’ve been in Oakland too.

What are the differences between the two places?

Here… a lot of the homeless kids are kind of like, calmer. You know? In Oakland, in some parts of Oakland some of the homeless are really really really aggressive.

Do you think drugs are playing a part of that?

I do… for some people. You know? I think drugs for some people do play a major part in their behavior. Because you know drugs alter the chemicals in the brain, make you feel every emotion 10 times stronger than if you were sober. So, if you are an overall angry person. You’re just filled with rage, you had a horrible child hood, your parents got divorced when you were 13, so… you’re already pissed off! So you add cocaine, meth, freaking syrup, whatever your choice of drugs is, if you overdo it, it’s going to become a chemical imbalance within the body. So you’ll become more rageful than before.

(In the background man yells: you guys are big stars!) (laughter)

Goddamnit. That’s Tripp (laughs)

Do you do any drugs?

I… do not, I do smoke every now and then. Cause I have severe anxiety, soo.. I do it so I can be like… relaxed. I have severe anxiety and PTSD. So when you know, I’m above the clouds, if someone were to touch me, normally I’d probably jump because I’m anxious, but when I’m high it’s just like “Yeah!! Heyy!”

Well do you find among the people you’re friends with, do a lot of people suffer from similar things to you, in terms of like anxiety and PTSD?

There’s a lot of people that I have known over the years, and just the few months I’ve been in Berkeley, like my friend Ninja, he suffers from some mental concerns, I suffer from mental concerns. You know I’m bi polar, and the PTSD, anxiety, I have multiple personality disorder, so yeah.

When you have issues or problems like that, what outlets do you turn to besides self-medicating, what other outlets do you really have?

There’s a few outlets. It depends, for me, it depends on the person within the person. I have 2 girls that are like really silly that like to have fun in my head, and when they come out, you know, I’m really funny and energetic! Then you have the really serious me, and then there’s also just me.

So you said you’re bipolar, you have multiple personality disorder, how did that get diagnosed, did you go to a doctor?

I went to a doctor, and they saw… what do they call that, like an examination?

Psychiatric examination?

Yeah, so they did that and they said I have multiple personality. They said I’m bi polar, cause there was a part in the examination where he asked me something, and I flipped a wig cause the question? I hated being asked that question so I started throwing books and stuff. I was cool calm and collected until he asked that question. And then there’s sometimes where I’ll be sitting here and I’m calm and relaxed, and then all of a sudden I’m mad as shit and I don’t know why. Or I’ll just get sad out of nowhere, or super happy, like a 5 year old with candy.

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