Op-ed: An open letter to City Council on homelessness

Let me begin this brief note by first setting aside all the bitterness and anger I feel towards recent actions you have taken against me personally as a member of the homeless community. I am commanded to “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice” (Ephesians 5:1) and this I shall attempt to do.

Before you tonight are two very important agenda items. The first is declaring that there is a homeless crisis here in Berkeley. One only has to look out your front window or notice your circumstances when walking to work to know this city like others is faced with an escalating problem. You recognized it by recently passing several anti-homeless measures. Walk the streets at 3 am. If you’re not disturbed by the amount of suffering your neighbors are experiencing then I’m wasting my time. If a tear doesn’t come to your eye at the sight of an old woman shuffling around dragging her meager possessions, then I’m just going to be silent.

By setting aside your differences and passing this agenda item is the first step to addressing the negative impact on the overall quality of life that homelessness presents. Proverbs 3:27-28 teaches us “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbor, “Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you” — when you already have it with you.”
Together you have it in your power to address this situation.

The next agenda item I wish to address is the Homeless Task Force recommendations. If we agree that there is a homeless crisis then this should pass with flying colors.

Your concerns are our concerns. You don’t want us defecting just any where; neither do we. You don’t want us stacking our survival gear on the sidewalk; neither do we. You don’t want us sleeping in the park; neither do we. The list is endless.

Unlike you, we were not content to cry about it. The wailing and gnashing of your teeth could be heard in Belfast, Northern Ireland. What we did at the encouragement and support of the community is that we created an intentional community which was subsequently named Liberty City.

In the weeks following we housed and provided storage for 7% of the homeless population. We policed ourselves with very limited assistance from law enforcement. We established a recycling center to generate a community fund. Most importantly we created our own government. The cost to the city was two trash pick-ups.

It should be noted that this community was built out of the dirt. We pulled ourselves up by our own bootstraps to solve our problem. Isn’t that the American way?

This was only possible by community support. Not only by the usual suspects, but also others who came by, were impressed with what they saw, and lent a hand. Like the man with a catering business that his family built from the ground up. Whatever leftovers were available he gave to us!
Your response was to send BPD and city workers to destroy what we had worked so hard to build. To spend what limited resources the City has for the sole purpose of not solving the problem but exacerbating it.

So I’m confused as to exactly what it is you want homeless people to do? We not only addressed your concerns, but also built a solution which dealt with your complaints. Instead of lending a hand, you threw us in jail. You terrorized those persons who were solving the problem immediately.

You now have the opportunity to correct that error. Whatever plan, scheme, or design you decide on the epicenter must employ the model of Liberty City. For we have proven in a cost-effective, immediate manner on how to attack the crisis of homelessness.

When we reflect on what was built and you maliciously destroyed, imagine if instead you lifted your pinky to help. My lord we might have solved homelessness! Stop the presses! Berkeley stops criminalizing homeless people and is now eligible for five million dollars in HUD funding.

At the end of the day, the choice is yours. Me and mine remain hopeful you will make the best choice for all Berkeley residents. If not, then we will continue to regroup and rebuild that which you took away from us.

Let a thousand Liberty City’s bloom; Homeless Not Helpless!

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Mike Lee is a homeless, disabled senior citizen.