Berkeley's Hilton to Homeless now Four Stars: A Garden Grows On Telegraph

By Ted Friedman
Thursday July 18, 2013 - 08:59:00 PM

Two years ago I wrote a piece here, "Berkeley Hilton to Homeless." I had no idea how that would turn out.

Two years later, the piece still leads the Berkeley Hilton Google search result page. If you're looking for a room at the Berkeley Hilton, you might want to consider going homeless and saving hundreds of dollars. Free food and clothes, too. 

But I wasn't ready for Michael Gesregan, 52, a third-generation Irishman, with a blood-red goatee, who "likes to party a bit." Gesregan, known in Camp Hate, People's Park, as "O.G.," has found his Hilton in Berkeley. 

Gesregan's Hilton, he tells me, is (with permission) beside Happy Valley Chinese Restaurant at Dwight/Telegraph, where he beds down on the cold-stone sidewalks of Telegraph Avenue. 

I'd like to say my Hilton article brought O.G. to town, but he said he heard about us in Petaluma. "Everyone said you've got to see Berkeley." 

He's been here a year and a half now and says he's found his home. He related how he never got along with his stepfather, but loved his mother and spent ten "glorious" days with her before she died. 

"Why would you go elsewhere," he enthuses. 'Berkeley is a beautiful, beautiful place. I'll do anything for Berkeley." 

Maybe that's why he's planted a white-picket-fenced garden in a small strip of dirt near the Dwight-Teley diverter. He put in $230 of his own money on the plot, after workers left the dirt behind a recent street-do. 

He also cleans the walk beside Happy Valley at 3. a.m., he says. 

"I'm a citizen of Berkeley; I'm here to stay," he proclaims. 

I've interviewed scores of street "kids," but only those who are pregnant stay put. Everyone else eventually wanders. It's the wandering that appeals to them. 

If Berkeley's streets were the Hilton, O.G. would give it four stars. 

O.G. is no angel. He did 3-10 for petty theft in Florida (a London Broil, and a sleeping bag "when it was freezing cold.") 

He's been clean in Berkeley. "Cops know me, here. They say, how you doing, Michael? (fare to midland). If you act appropriately, they'll help you," he attests. 

"Well over 100 have stopped to look at the garden" he says. "Some of them hang around to work 10 minutes in the garden," he adds. 

Working in the garden 'is so relaxing. It takes the stress out of you." 

"Me and my garden talk," O.G. reports "as I pick out the leaves, I put my heart and soul into it." 


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