Contributing to the Community

How Rising Homeless Rates in Berkeley Inspired Me to Give Back

By Jade Ingersoll

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Homelessness in Berkeley has hit an all time high, rising 23% since 2009. According to a 2015 survey done by Berkeleyside, there were more than 1,200 homeless individuals in the city of Berkeley alone. Many are homeless due to mental illness, substance abuse, domestic violence, and other health related issues such as AIDS and HIV. There is also a rising number of homeless youth in the community.

“In the 2015 homeless count, there were a total of 77 young adults aged 18-14… of the 77, 41 were sheltered, and 36 were unsheltered,” according to a letter from the Interim City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley, to the Mayor and City Council Members in January 2016. As many of you know, this is a time of transition from ages 18 to 24, and there are men and women just like you and I struggling to survive and grow to their full potential.

BCC Students can help. As a community we can donate our time and resources to those in need. In 2015, I started LENT: Let’s Eat Now and Tomorrow which feeds the homeless in San Francisco Bay Area and Monterey County. LENT started out as a school project but ended up turning into something bigger that I truly care about. I have met hundreds of people in different phases in their lives who became homeless due to economic and health reasons. In some cases, the homeless have chosen to live this way. Others are in transition from homelessness or are trying to get home to their families. But the transition is difficult, the cost of living is high, and there are not enough affordable homes for everyone.

Each person I have met while handing out lunches and wellness packs has changed my life and taught me to be more thankful for what I have.

I went out this month to hand out LENT wellness packs and talk to the homeless people in Berkeley. I asked them one question: What can Berkeley as a community do to help you? One woman I met, Nina, explained that she didn’t want people to judge them: “Well, they could not assume so much that everybody is doing the same stuff. Give the same respect that they want to receive.”

In Downtown Berkeley, I met Willie, who came to the Bay Area on July 4, 1975, with his brother Ronnie, who passed away last year. He said he feels lost without his brother, who saved his life. When I asked him how the community could help him he said, “How can you replace a broken heart?”

We can’t expect to change their living situations overnight, but we can offer our time to listen to their hardships. We can listen to the stories about Willie’s brother Ronnie and about his life.

There are many ways to help those less fortunate in your community. Berkeley has been working to shelter, provide food, and services to its homeless. You can offer your time by: sitting and talking to them, preparing an extra sandwich in the morning to give to someone on your way to work, and donating gently used clothing directly to them or a charity of your choice.

If you are interested in offering your time to those in need check out the sites below:

Youth Engagement, Advocacy, and Housing: yeah-berkeley.org

Berkeley Food and Housing Project: bfhp.org

Homeless Action Center: homelessactioncenter.org

Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency: self-sufficiency.org

LENT: letseatnowandtomorrow.weebly.com

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