Homeless advocate Guy “Mike” Lee and fellow activists are hoping to raise $1,000 from public donations by establishing the Community Mutual Aid Fund, which aims to promote homeless community entrepreneurship.
The Community Mutual Aid Fund’s No. 1 focus is promoting entrepreneurship for homeless people to start their own businesses, according to Lee. A post for the Community Mutual Aid Fund on the fundraising website GoFundMe states that over the next six to 12 months, activists hope to further entrepreneurial opportunities for the homeless community by providing seed money and equity stake partnerships.
“This is a very different effort, what we’re talking about doing, setting homeless people up in their own business,” Lee said. “Nobody talks about teaching homeless people to fish for themselves.”
Lee noted that many members of the homeless community do not know how to market their skills, including typing proficiency, engineering, computer programming prowess and fluency in multiple languages. Citing previous business experience, Lee said he could help build self-sufficient enterprises, independently run by the homeless community.
Lee described the existing “entrepreneurial spirit” within Berkeley’s homeless community.
“Panhandling is a business: They have to go open up their shop, they have to make their sign and then they have to go and work their business,” Lee said. “I want to take that entrepreneurial spirit and turn that into something positive … turning a panhandler into a businessperson.”
Lee does not expect to ask the city of Berkeley for any support and emphasized his desire for the fund to be a community-based effort.
“We’re asking the citizens of Berkeley, all 100,000 of them, to donate a handful of pennies.” Lee said. “We’re going to ask for whatever loose change people have in their pockets.”
The city of Berkeley provides homeless support through the Hub, a central coordinated system for Berkeley homeless services, emergency shelters, transitional housing and other homeless housing resources. The system provides access to employment services, according to the Berkeley Housing and Community Services Department website.
Staff members of the Hub were unable to be reached for comment as of press time, and city spokesperson Matthai Chakko declined to comment on the Community Mutual Aid Fund proposal, as the fund would not be a city program.
The fund has raised 10 percent of its $1,000 goal, according to its GoFundMe page, and by next week, Lee hopes to begin tabling to solicit more donations. He said he hopes the fund raises its dollar benchmark as soon as possible but acknowledges that “it’s going to be a very hard road.”
“(This fund) creates self-sufficiency for homeless people and a sense of dignity,” Lee said. “Instead of depending on someone else to feed them, they can feed themselves. … It’s a matter of self-worth and self-sufficiency.”