‘Bulldozer for justice’: Homelessness advocate Barbara Brust dies at age 69

Photo of Barbara Brust
Yesica Prado/Courtesy
Barbara Brust founded Consider the Homeless! in 2014, and she was an advocate for homeless people. In honor of her community work and activism, the city of Berkeley declared Dec. 1, 2020, as “Barbara Brust Day.”

Known on the streets of Berkeley as “the soup lady,” Barbara Brust died Feb. 25 at the age of 69.

Brust founded Consider the Homeless!, or CTH!, shortly after Thanksgiving Day in 2014, when she brought meals to encamped individuals at Provo Park. Since then, the organization has continued to deliver food, clothes and other supplies to Berkeley’s unsheltered population. 

Berkeley declared Dec. 1, 2020, as “Barbara Brust Day” in honor of her community work and advocacy for people without housing.

Those closest to Brust described her as a “straight shooter,” a fiercely tender friend and a “bulldozer for justice.”

When CTH! was getting off the ground, Brust did not have any volunteers, outside guidance, nonprofit status or soup recipes that had been tested, according to her friend Deb Bryant.

“Barbara was 63, disabled, broke, and depressed when she started making soup to bring it to people on the streets,” Bryant said in an email. “She just saw a need and tried to meet it as best she could.”

Over time, Brust would enlist a small army of volunteers into the fold of CTH!.

Paul Kealoha-Blake, who Brust would introduce to others as her “brother from another mother,” said the organization’s goals are greater than its surface-level appearance.

“Consider the Homeless! is not just soup, it’s actually the underlying factors — the building of trust, the building of community, the building of integrity with the people we work with,” Kealoha-Blake said. “The soup and the food is only a passport to those qualities, and Barbara firmly believed in that.”

Elly Leggatt was taking a class on the intersection of homelessness and the law at UC Berkeley School of Law in spring 2019 when Brust came to speak. Brust’s fun presence, strong personality and deep care for the homeless community swayed Leggatt to volunteer with the organization.

Andrea Henson recalled the day an unhoused man was released back to his tent after getting a bypass surgery and, subsequently, got a goat as an emotional support animal. Though Henson laughed upon hearing the news, Brust, on the other hand, was angry and worried the goat could rip open the man’s stitches and stop his healing process.

“Barabara was the mother hen. She was the protector, and if you did something that didn’t make sense — like getting a goat after bypass surgery — she wouldn’t let it go because it was funny,” Henson said. “She didn’t have any children, but the streets were her children.”

Leykn Schmatz, a friend of Brust’s since the 1990s, described her as a “scrapper.” It would have been very easy for Brust to sit back and give up given her own physical and emotional struggles, Schmatz said. Instead, Brust set her own course by starting CTH! and was committed to keep at her work irrespective of anyone or anything else.

“It was her absolute personal integrity about what she was doing that drew so many other people in,” Schmatz said. “She just found a thing to do that was the right thing for her to do and she did it. She did not quit and nobody could make her quit, and we can all do that.”

Contact Kaleo Mark at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @kaleomark_dc.