Bring Awareness, Support, and Resources to the Homelessness Crisis in Berkeley, CA

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My name is Sage Bennett and I am a Regents and Chancellor’s Scholar studying at UC Berkeley and I have been going through extreme poverty and homelessness since the age of six. 

My childhood here in the San Francisco Bay Area was wrapped up in diluted memories of fear, poverty, and death that have terrorized me my entire life.I didn’t always have the security of knowing that I had a place to sleep at night, or where I would be getting my next meal from, or if the government or Child Protection Services would come and take away the only thing I have ever had during homelessness: Family. You might never know from looking at me, but I’ve lived in more homeless shelters than homes. Growing up, I’ve lived in cars, storage units, hotels, motels, churches, and recreational vehicles all throughout the San Francisco Bay Area—even here in Berkeley, CA.

I cannot sit aside and watch the community of which fostered me, the community I am from and the community I am still a part of suffer in silence. This is why I founded Big Change. We are a community outreach program in Berkeley, CA that is committed to bringing awareness, bringing support, and uplifting the lives of those in our community. 

The city of Berkeley, CA currently has one of the highest populations of homeless people in the entire San Francisco Bay Area. (Washington Post) Alameda county has one of the highest homeless populations in the United States. (SF Chronicle)

Right now at the University of California, Berkeley, any unused flex points and meal swipes from the Summer Sessions 2020 are set to expire on August 14th, 2020–less than a month from today.

Most of you might be aware of what Flex points/ Meal Swipes are, but in case any of you are unfamiliar with the concept; essentially flex points are UC Berkeley’s currency that allows those who have a meal plan the ability to go to any of the campuses’ restaurants, convenience stores, and dining halls. 

However still with the upbeat pace of UC Berkeley, and plentiful of other options for cuisine in Berkeley, CA—there are meal swipes and flex points that are essentially “going to waste”. 

Instead of all of these resources going to waste, we want to repurpose these resources and bring them back into our community to foster real help towards the homelessness crisis happening right now in Berkeley, Ca. 

By repurposing our unused flex points and meal swipes on our college campus alone—we could be looking at large amounts of money and resources going directly back to help the city of Berkeley’s homeless population. The specific aspects of how this project can be accomplished following CDC recommended guidelines, an in-depth time table, and how we are exactly going to help the homeless without causing disruption or negative backlash in any way—is currently under operation with cooperation from multiple different parties.

Tomorrow, July 23rd, 2020 at 3:30pm we will be meeting with members representing the University of California Berkeley to see how this project can be implemented. 

We need to convince the University of California, Berkeley not to only help us with awareness of this issue—not just with reaching out to students, gaining the community’s involvement, reaching out to organizations and resources that can make this project a reality—we need the University of California, Berkeley to help us declare a new initiative to ending homeless not just in our city—but everywhere.

Here is the general timetable/ outline of the project we are planning: 

The week of August 5th-10th, any UC Berkeley student or faculty member who currently holds a meal plan and still has a remaining balance on their Summer plan for flex points, has the option to go to UC Berkeley’s connivence store “the Den” and donate the remaining amount (or how much ever they want to spend) to buy snacks and other food supplies.

The amount of flex points donated, if any, is totally up to the digression of the student. 

We are asking that either the University of California repurpose this otherwise unused resource back into the community’s homeless population with active cooperation, communication, and facilitation from Big Change and any other organization interested in being involved in this process; or that these otherwise unused “meal swipes” and “flex points” come from resources existing already within the domain or ability of the University of California, Berkeley.

We are also asking that the University of California, Berkeley allow us the ability to store these acquired resources somewhere at the Crossroads Dining Hall, or the Den, or any other location that can be agreed upon until these resources have been distributed out completely on a time table that can be agreed upon at a later date. This purpose of this is so that students, faculty, and community members involved will not have to hold onto the resources and risk transmitting the coronavirus.

According to recent data, observations, and information avaliable, the coronavirus can stay alive for up to 72 hours depending on the surface the virus is inhabiting (Center for Disease Control, The Guardian).

We are proposing that from August 14th-August 17th the materials will essentially go through their own 72 hour isolation period to ensure that any bacteria or viral disease transmitted onto the containers of the food will die off before having any human contact. 

We are reaching out to several organizations that would be interested in helping facilitate the process of reaching out to students, faculty, and people in the community about this; as well as getting materials like gloves, bags, and hand sanitizer so we can individually separate, bag, and sterilize these donations. 

In terms of giving the actual food out, there are a couple of routes that can be taken, but its imperative that we raise the awareness of this issue first to the people who have the power to implement the change we are trying to make. 

This project is too big for one person, or one organization to tackle—it takes all of them, and it takes everybody.

We need to gain the support and help of University of California, Berkeley to create a real initiative at putting an end to homelessness in Berkeley, Ca. We need the University of California, Berkeley to help us by reaching out to the students currently living in the residence halls in Berkeley, we need help in reaching out to the larger undergraduate and graduate student and faculty body in order to anticipate how many resources like meal swipes and flex points are going to waste every semester. We need help in acquiring the necessary materials, resources, and support of putting this project into motion with this given general outline and time table.

The important thing is the help—whether temporary or long term needs to actually help.

Think about all of the food you’ve ever given to a homeless person without ever thinking about if it actually helped them. Could they prepare the food? Is the food nourishing enough for them to eat? Would you be full and satiated off of what you gave them to eat? Can they even eat the food you gave them? This includes people who are allergic, and people who don’t have the physical or physiological ability to even do so. 

If the answer to any of these questions is no then we aren’t helping the homeless. We are only helping them to get by whether it’s through the next day, the next week, the next month. Any type of help we initiate, whether it's temporary or long term, needs to be help that actually helps.

We are not staying that we—or the city of Berkeley, CA; or the University of California, Berkeley; or anyone who is affiliated with either of these entities or this cause; or anyone who isn’t—have not been doing anything. We are not saying that the work we have been doing is useless. We are saying that this only goes to show that the help we have been trying to give is not enough.

We should ALWAYS be doing everything in our power to save lives. We should have started saving lives before George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis, MN was murdered. We should have started saving lives before the #blacklivesmatter hashtag was trending. We should have starting saving lives before a global pandemic swept us off of our feet. 

We should have started saving lives before the world said we needed to. We should have started saving lives when lives needed to be saved. 

We need to be better and do better.

Whether your a faculty member, a student, a future student, someone who wants to go to UC Berkeley, or someone who just screams “Go Bears!” when you see Cal Merch, I need you to remember one thing:

We need to stop giving ourselves excuses as to why something can’t be done, and make excuses as to why we should be doing something better. Ask yourself What can you do right now? What is it in this exact moment you can do that creates change.

Berkeley is a big school. However, being a “big” school, doesn't mean we can’t create big change.

We as the students, faculty, friends, colleagues, community members, and anyone affiliated with the University of California, Berkeley have the responsibility and obligation to uplift, support, and help this global crisis happening within our own streets, within our own neighborhoods, within our own city limits.

We need help gaining awareness for this issue, we need help contacting organizations and resources and connecting them with the people who want to help, and need the help. We need help distributing this help and coming up with new alternatives to end homelessness poverty everywhere.

We need help gaining awareness for this issue, we need help contacting organizations and resources and connecting them with the people who want to help, and need the help. We need help distributing this help and coming up with new alternatives to end homelessness poverty everywhere.

We need a lot of help. We need Psychologists, Psychiatrists, the city of Berkeley, the University of California, Berkeley, the Berkeley Police Dept, the UC Berkeley Police Dept., students, faculty, and anyone who can help us create a real commitment to solving homelessness.

If you are interested in finding out ways you can support, whether you're affiliated with the University of California, Berkeley—or not, please sign our petition to petition the University of California, Berkeley to not only help us with awareness of this issue—not just with reaching out to students, gaining the community’s involvement, reaching out to organizations and resources that can make this project a reality—we need the University of California, Berkeley to help us declare a new initiative to ending homeless not just in our city—but everywhere.

If you are interested in finding out ways you can support, whether you're affiliated with the University of California, Berkeley—or not, please sign our petition as every signature matters.

Another big issue we are trying to address with our petition is also how meal swipes each week during the regular functioning semesters are going to waste because there are still some students that aren’t going to the dining hall(s). We are trying to create an initiative that looks at where our resources as a University and as a community are going to waste to then allows us to repurpose them into our community and foster real growth.

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns please contact us at changeberkeley@gmail.com, or reach out to any of our below listed social medias!

Here is also the link to a live constantly updating google document containing more resources about how we want to make this change a reality, our mission, and more details: Big Change 2020: Public Document

We are Berkeley Brains creating Big Change.

You can check us out on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter at: @changeberkeley :)