Editor’s note: On January 21, 2018, the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, Leilani Farha, visited the tent community organized by ‘First they came for the homeless’ at Berkeley Old City Hall. There she met with residents, including street minister ‘Momma’ Crystal McKinney of ‘Dare to Change’ who lived there with her two teenage daughters, helping people with recovery and healing, until a recent police raid displaced everyone to another site. Her son organizes a nearby tent community for street youth. This is a transcription of her testimony to Ms. Farha during the visit in Berkeley, CA.
Lailani Farha: I just wanted to meet you
Crystal McKinney: It is wonderful to meet you. You are talking to Momma, Crystal McKinney. This is my daughter Star. I am a street minister but I don’t use the Reverend because it’s intimidating. [To her daughter: How many people do we have here now?
Daughter: It varies.
Crystal: I think bout 13].
The best things about what we have now is that these are not people who are choosing to be here cuz they need a place to stay, they’re tenting up here because they’ve decided to make a change, completely 100%, from what we were to what you can become, without judgement, without having to get out a dollar you don’t have. We have family night, we do game night, movie night, we do artwork. We cook together as a family. We don’t separate one person with an issue from another person, we just reach out and help that person where they are at the moment.
My 15 year-old daughter’s high school graduation was the most beautiful day that ever happened. She is literally in the library all day long so she ended up actually jumping a grade and graduating by herself before her class. What am I going to do? The homeless people got together, not a joke, people who don’t get along, they’re not the best of friends, they’ve stolen from each other – they all got together and gave this girl a graduation. They all dressed up, wore beautiful gowns. And the purpose of me telling you this story is that homeless people got together in one area without an argument, for a positive purpose.
We don’t want to see people in tents, we want to see these educated, these bright futures, these talented young people. Omigod, the things that I’ve seen, they have so much to offer, and all we want you guys to know is that sometimes when something bad happens out here, like drugs start out here, because of the way they’re treated, the way they’re made to feel. And all I’m saying is, can we just stop making people feel that way, and deal with them on this level?