Homeless activist Guy ‘Mike’ Lee sues the city of Berkeley

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Local homeless activist Guy “Mike” Lee is filing two small claims lawsuits alleging that the city of Berkeley violated his constitutional rights during homeless encampment disbandments.

Lee is a member of First They Came for the Homeless, an activist group that peacefully protests insufficient homeless services in Berkeley. His small claims suits allege that the city of Berkeley violated the First Amendment by disbanding his encampment, which was set up as a protest.

One of Lee’s small claims complaints stated Berkeley Police Department and others arrived Oct. 7, 2016 at approximately 5 a.m. to disband an encampment at Fairview and Adeline streets organized by First They Came for the Homeless, where they allegedly confiscated and later destroyed property. City officials allege that homeless encampments constitute illegal lodging on public property and violate Berkeley Municipal Code.

“The police department were not there to stop crime, they were there to stop the protest,” Lee alleged.

Lee said blankets, tents, clothing, prescription drugs, food and valuable electronics were among the items allegedly disposed of. He is filing two small claims for his losses, both of which are asking for $10,000.

City spokesperson Matthai Chakko has previously said that items confiscated from disbandments are held at the city’s Transfer Station where they can be picked up by owners. Chakko declined to comment specifically on Lee’s lawsuits.

On Feb. 24, the Ad Hoc Committee on Homelessness discussed potential new amendments to city policies on homeless encampment disbandments after members of First They Came for the Homeless threatened to file a class-action lawsuit. The proposed policies aim to improve notification processes about forthcoming disbandments and offer more resources to assist encampment residents in the transition into shelters and housing, according to a memo from Mayor Jesse Arreguin.

Lee, however, has previously said he doesn’t feel that the proposed policies will change the way the city interacts with the homeless.

Lee recently resigned from his position as a homeless commissioner after he alleged he was repeatedly ignored and interrupted by other commissioners.

“A lot of times you have to present the reality of (homelessness) with kid-gloves because if you don’t people will become very offended,” Lee said. “When you are responsible for funding programs but you can’t deal with the reality of homelessness then whatever you come up with is crazy and nonsense.”

Lee said his legal strategy is to file 15 separate federal lawsuits in the future. He said he will continue protesting until he and other homeless people receive the services and affordable housing they need. He added that homeless people need to have a voice in the city.