‘All we have is an idea’

Mike Zint (right) of ‘First they came for the homeless’ meets with Poor Tour tent community residents
Jim, Clark and Tim.
PHOTO/SARAH MENEFEE

 

Editor’s note: In the predawn hours of February 8, police and city workers descended on the peaceful Poor Tour tent community at Berkeley Old City Hall, taking tents and belongings, destroying the place where many houseless people had found protection, community and a place to call home. This is a description by ‘First they came for the homeless’ co-founder Mike Zint of the raid, and what was displaced. Other sites are still standing and a smaller protest has continued nearby, with more determination than ever.

BERKELEY, CA — Today, at 5 am, the police raided our city hall location. They did it with less than 24 hours notice. They displaced over 40 people. Those displaced were seniors, disabled, and addicts fresh into recovery. They removed months of stability. They put some people into a much worse situation. They destroyed recovery progress, and put some addicts in the impossible position of staying clean on the streets. They destroyed a community that was making a difference.

‘First They Came for The Homeless’ has helped get over 50 people off the streets. With the help of the Dare 2 Change community, we finally had a working solution for getting addicted clean and into our sober community. They graduate from Dare 2 Change community, and enter into the ‘First They Came for The Homeless’ camp as drug and alcohol free. Once in the ‘First They Came for The Homeless’ camp, the new people must go through probation, just like any other new resident. Dare 2 Change graduated 23 people. In the same period of time, the HUB [Berkeley’s central entry point for homeless services] got two housed out of camp. We have used no tax payer dollars. The HUB has around 1.7 million dollars budgeted.

When you do the math, we have gotten 50 off the streets. Before the raid, we had around 60 sheltered in tents. Including sheltering those 60, we are also providing stability, storage of gear, security, personal space, privacy, and community. With Dare 2 Change’s 23 graduated, that brings us to around 120 people that were not fighting for a mat on the floor. They are no longer in doorways. They are no longer on drugs, wandering around town.

We are the homeless. We don’t get funded. All we have is an idea on what is needed. We have proven over the last 13 months that this community-based solution, with rules and camp consensus policy making, is the best way to save lives, and get people off the streets. The fact that the city would rather spend millions on things that don’t work than listen to the homeless suggests to me the city has no desire to really help. They would rather chase the homeless, or move them out of town.

I just want to be able to shelter myself if it’s ever needed. To have that removed is a clear demonstration that those in power need to be removed. When those in charge deny a life-sustaining necessity from the people, the people need to rebel or die.

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