Guy “Mike” Lee sat at a wooden table in the back of Au Coquelet restaurant on University Avenue. His laptop computer was open in front of him, its cord stretching behind to an electrical outlet on the wall. Lee’s cell phone was also charging.
Many people trace the roots of the current homeless crisis back to the presidency of Ronald Reagan. He came into office in 1981 with a mandate to cut federal spending. And cut he did. Early in his term Reagan halved the budget for public housing and even tried to eliminate federal subsidies for public low-income housing. The annual budget of $16 billion in 1979 went to just $1 billion in 1983. Reagan also did a number of other things that contributed to a spike in poverty. There was also a recession. By the mid-1980s, there were about 600,000 homeless people in the United States. Today there are from 634,000 to 1.6 million homeless in the U.S., according to various studies. In Berkeley, official estimates say were 834 homeless people as of January 2015, while advocates say there are likely more than 1,000.
Friday's rally was organized by the Green Party and the Berkeley Post Office Defenders group and attended by around 50 people.
Just before 5 a.m. Tuesday, U.S. Post Office inspectors cleared the protester encampment on the steps and on the side of the downtown Berkeley Post Office. Protesters from First They Came for the Homeless and the Berkeley Post Office Defenders had occupied part of the post office property for over 17 months.
The city of Berkeley is pushing forward with a lawsuit to stop the sale of the downtown Berkeley Post Office, despite the U.S. Postal Service’s claim that it is unnecessary as there is no imminent plan to sell the building, an attorney working for Berkeley told a crowd at a community meeting Thursday.
The proposal by Berkeley developers Hudson MacDonald to buy the downtown Berkeley Post Office has fallen through after they were unable to reach agreement with the Post Office on a deal.