A homeless advocacy group held a 24-hour vigil Tuesday to mourn a homeless woman who died because of exposure to the cold weather.
According to homeless activist Mike Lee, his organization, First They Came for the Homeless, or FTCFTH, hoped to call attention to City Council’s “criminally negligent” actions involving homelessness issues by hosting the overnight vigil outside Berkeley City Hall during a closed city council meeting.
“One aspect about homelessness is that it is easy to disguise the problem,” said Jonathan Guzman, community organizer for Western Regional Advocacy Project, a coalition of social justice organizations dedicated to eliminating homelessness. “(People) always want to hide poverty, especially in a country like the U.S.”
The homeless community reported that the name of the woman who died was Laura Jadwin. According to Lee, five homeless people in Berkeley have died since Oct. 1.
Berkeley Police Department has not confirmed the identity of the deceased or the number of homeless people that have died this past winter.
Dozens of candles lined the stairs in front of City Hall and posters — stating “Love Ur Neighbor,” “Affordable Housing Now” and “Help the Homeless” — laid on the floor as several activists discussed the importance of members of the homeless community voicing their issues themselves. According to Mike Zint, the founder of FTCFTH, the city does not ask for any opinions on policies from homeless people and instead listens to “experts.”
“(Experts) don’t get it. They are not on the streets,” Zint said.
According to Lee, FTCFTH has been “touring” Berkeley to provide another source of support for the homeless apart from the Hub — a coordinated system between Berkeley’s homeless services, shelters and resources. He said the group helps the homeless community by providing goods based on individuals’ needs.
The residents of the encampment have been moving around the city because of evictions by BPD and are currently at their 16th location, Lee said.
Zint said the police “raids” on their encampments do not help solve homelessness but instead only add to the problem. Every night, homeless individuals fear the chance of eviction in the early morning, according to Zint. He said a better way for the city to help the homeless would be to provide a dumpster pickup and porta-potties throughout Berkeley.
According to Zint, city shelters have rules and regulations, such as not allowing pets, that discourage many homeless people from using them. He said the rules add pressure on individuals when they should be taking the time to heal and recover.
Zint said he did not expect the police to show up Tuesday night, however, and appreciated the number of people that planned to stay overnight for the vigil.
“This is something that needs to be done,” Zint said. “We don’t need people dying on the street.”