Barbara Brust 1951- 2021
Barbara Brust, known affectionately on the streets of Berkeley as “the soup lady,” passed peacefully in the early evening on Feb. 25, 2021. Founder of Consider The Homeless!, radical dyke, and a fierce lover of justice, Barbara inspired and coordinated a small army of volunteers who continue to reach out to Berkeley’s unhoused twice a week to offer groceries, soup, and a smile.
Barbara was born on June 11, 1951, in Queens, New York. Her early work history includes several years as a taxi cab driver in NYC, followed by jobs as an AT&T telephone installer in Albuquerque, manager at Berkeley Local Transport, and an inventory control job at 1-800-Software, a software startup in Point Richmond.
The Internet was made available to the public in August 1991, and initially, very few people even noticed. Barbara completed coursework and prepared to open her own business. In 1996, she started Lucille Design, a web development and graphic design shop.
Barbara came alive at the Michigan Womyn’s Festival and was devastated when it ended. She came to be an ally to trans folks in her life and in her work.
For 30 years, Barbara was a stage manager for the Woodminster Theater in the Oakland Hills. She also took great joy in working for the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival every summer from the 1990s to 2015, on the acoustic stage crew and/or shuttle crew. She also coordinated the Festival’s bulletin board and assisted with their Facebook page and website.
On Thanksgiving Day of 2014, Barbara spontaneously decided to prepare a complete Thanksgiving feast and bring it to the people encamped at Provo Park. She was so moved by the potential to connect with others and build trust through a shared meal that she started making and distributing soup a few times a week. Very soon the organization now known as Consider The Homeless! was formed.
Barbara and her board members developed a well-tuned operation of volunteers who continue to source food, conduct inventory, pack grocery bags, make soup, and deliver it to unhoused residents wherever they are found: on the streets, in encampments and in their vehicles. The non-profit also delivers tents, sleeping bags, tarps, new socks, and sleeping pads.
Barbara personally knew so many of the estimated 1,000 unhoused persons in Berkeley that when a person died on the street, the Alameda County Coroner’s office called on Barbara to identify the deceased. She was recently pleased to have played a significant role in the return of a deceased person’s remains to their tribal land and loved ones. An elder with a disability, she persisted nonetheless in witnessing police evictions of homeless neighbors from encampments. In one instance, officers grabbed her and arrested her as she attempted to ensure a fellow activist and unhoused friends were unharmed. Officers took her cane and forcibly carried her to a police van. Barbara was a fearless and tenacious advocate, but also very saddened by this incident.
In an interview with Berkeley Times in November 2020, she shared her wishes for the Berkeley community: “I hope everybody can learn to love and accept.”
Barbara’s extensive work and deep dedication to the most marginalized in Berkeley was recognized by the City Council when they issued a proclamation in her honor in December 2020. The same month, Barbara also celebrated her 31st anniversary of sobriety.
On the night before she passed, Barbara gave this instruction to friends at her bedside in her home: “Tell everyone to do something each day to make at least one person smile or laugh. That would be on my tombstone if I had one.”
Barbara is survived by an extensive chosen family of friends, fellow activists, colleagues, volunteers at Consider The Homeless!, allies in government, and scores of people who Barbara referred to as “unhoused but not unloved”.
Barbara is predeceased by her nephew Akiva Saren-Demarinis. She is survived by her nieces Jade Saren and Leila Zaremba. She is also survived by her beloved Akita dog Kuma, her cat Simkhe, and lizards Titi and Stumpy. Barbara asked that everyone show compassion to unhoused brothers and sisters who suffer outdoors. Tax-deductible donations can be made to considerthehomeless.org in lieu of flowers. A community celebration of Barbara’s life and contributions will take place in the near future. Details will be announced by press release and social media posts.