‘One down, thousands more to go’: Homeless activist Guy ‘Mike’ Lee moves into apartment

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Joshua Jordan/Staff

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On Sept. 13, with all personal belonging tucked between his arms, Guy “Mike” Lee left the South Berkeley homeless encampment he had called home for the last time.

The walk wasn’t long. In about seven minutes, he had arrived at his new home — his very own apartment on Fairview Street.

Lee, 62, moved to the Bay Area permanently when he was 17 and has spent much of his time since then living on the streets of Berkeley. A kind of local celebrity, Lee is best known for his passionate advocacy for homeless rights and housing in the city; he even ran for mayor in the 2016 elections.

After decades of calling a tent his home, he finally received the keys to permanent housing last week, giving him a place of his own and a place to work with the homeless community.

“Up until I got the keys into my hand and actually walked in here, I didn’t think this was going to happen. I really didn’t,” Lee said. “(But) it did, and … I’m just so grateful for the support I’ve gotten in the last couple years.”

But the path to moving in was not easy for Lee.

A few years ago, when Lee was looking for housing in Berkeley, he registered with the Homeless Coordinated Entry System, or the Hub, a city system that centralizes homeless housing resources such as homeless services, emergency shelter and transitional housing. Although the Hub connected Lee with his current apartment, Lee described his relationship with the Hub as “up and down.”

About four weeks ago, the Hub presented Lee with a housing opportunity, but in East Oakland, Lee alleged. He said he was hesitant about accepting because it was a very small studio apartment — barely big enough to house his own tent — and it was so far away from the community he had become close to in Berkeley. He said he “reluctantly accepted” the unit, however, because his only other option was to spend another winter on the streets.

Lee said he signed the lease and completed all the necessary paperwork. He alleged that the Hub said he would hear back about the housing opportunity in about a week. But two weeks later, he had still not heard back. Taking to social media to express his frustration, he posted on his Facebook page about the situation and emailed city council members for help.

“I assumed again they dropped the ball,” Lee said. “Instead of fighting with them … I put it out there to all of my support.”

The Hub, launched in 2016, has faced criticism in the past for its alleged inefficiency in providing homeless community members with housing and other services. Some community members have said they feel that there is a “disconnect” between the homeless community and the Hub staff, alleging that the Hub has failed to provide services to the community.

Mike Zint, founder of First They Came for the Homeless and former fellow camp occupant of Lee’s, said although he couldn’t really speak to the specifics of Lee’s situation, he had experienced something similar with the Hub. Zint alleged that he too had problems with his lease through the Hub that delayed his housing, but he acknowledged that there is a lot of “governmental bureaucracy” that could have caused the process to take such a long time.

After Lee emailed council members about his situation, Councilmember Kriss Worthington said his office forwarded Lee’s complaint to staff members at the Hub to see if they could help expedite his housing. He added that there can often be “bureaucratic obstacles” that can delay individual housing cases.

Citing the Hub’s confidentiality policy, both Terrie Light, executive director for the Berkeley Food and Housing Project, and Sharon Hawkins Leyden, director of the Hub, declined to comment on Lee’s case specifically.

“When a client comes in, it is really personal information that they give us,” Hawkins Leyden said. “There is absolutely no way we are going to break that (confidentiality) because that would be a disservice to our client.”

She added that there is no specific timeline for the process of housing one of the Hub’s clients because it varies depending on the client, landlord and other mitigating factors. Hawkins Leyden emphasized, however, that the Hub has a “really good” system that housed more than 75 households in the last year.

“People are getting housed way more than they’ve ever been housed,” Hawkins Leyden said. “We work diligently to get every single client the same equitable fair chance to get into housing. … With each client, it just takes a different amount of time based on a variety of factors.”

On Sept. 11, about five days after Lee shared his story publicly, he received several calls from the Hub. Although at first he ignored them because he was frustrated, when he answered, he was told that the Hub had found a new place for him — one that was not only in Berkeley, but also just a few block away from the homeless encampment on Adeline Street, which has been the site of some contention recently. Although Berkeley Police Department officers have disbanded several homeless encampments in the city, many people in the homeless community have emphasized the stability that the encampments provide.

According to Lee, he signed the new lease Sept. 12 and moved into the apartment the following day. He later found out that his landlord is former city councilmember Mary Wainwright, a woman he’s admired and wanted to meet for years.

“(I) couldn’t have gotten a better location — couldn’t have gotten a better spot,” Lee said. “It’s a true blessing.”

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Joshua Jordan/Staff

But being such a prominent figure in the community, Lee worries that his housing situation may have been resolved so quickly because of his status. It took four members of the council, as well as the mayor, he said, to speak on his behalf before his situation was resolved.

“My situation is typical. The only thing that is unique is that I’m a public figure,” Lee said. “If somebody else had the same exact case, the same exact circumstances, they wouldn’t have been afforded this opportunity.”

Many community members expressed their excitement for Lee — someone who has been advocating for everything from tiny homes to more accessible restrooms for the homeless community.

Worthington said he thought that it was “beautiful” that the Hub was able to find Lee a second offer for an apartment, especially one in Berkeley, since Lee is such an “important voice to raise serious issues” in the community.

“I think any day that we get a homeless person off the street into an apartment is a good day. Because he’s such a part of the Berkeley community with his activism, it’s even better that he’s in Berkeley,” Worthington said.

“It’s great to have an apartment in any city,” he continued, “but if you’re an activist in one city, it’s good to have an apartment in that city where you’re actively engaged and know a lot of people.”

Zint, who was eventually able to move into his own apartment in East Oakland earlier this year, also said he was very happy for Lee. Since moving to Oakland, however, he acknowledges that he is “a ways out” from Berkeley and hasn’t been able to attend city council meetings, particularly because of health problems. Still, the two of them continue to work together to address the major issues facing Berkeley.

The housewarming gifts have already started to roll in. Lee said one of his friends in Oakley, California, was sending him a microwave for his kitchen.

Lee also got to celebrate his 62nd birthday with his friends in his apartment Tuesday. He said it was “a good birthday” and that it was “just awesome” to celebrate it with his community in his new home.

But while his fight for his own home has come to an end, Lee has no plans to stop fighting for the homeless community.

He said his apartment will be an “epicenter” for the homeless community, offering himself and his friends on the streets a “more stable base of operations” — for instance, providing a more secure place to store any donations they receive.

Lee emphasized that although he is now off the streets, there are many more who are still struggling to find proper housing.

“We may have won this battle, but we haven’t won the war yet,” Lee said. “So, it’s a start. One down, thousands more to go.”

Chantelle Lee is the city news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ChantelleHLee.

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  • Concernedresidentofearth

    Mike, I think the article is mistaken – you didn’t come to the Bay Area permanently at age 17; you came just a few years ago from Las Vegas after giving up housing and a job there. You thought $1000 per month was enough to live in Berkeley. Was that earlier story not true, or is the story in this article not true? Or do you spin yarns as you go to achieve your objectives?

    How much is the rent?

  • DarkStarCrashes

    “Lee, 62, moved to the Bay Area permanently when he was 17 and has spent
    much of his time since then living on the streets of Berkeley.”

    I thought he lived in Las Vegas for a long time?

    • lspanker

      Yes he did, and when I mentioned that in my first post, it got flagged and removed. I often wonder if writers are given moderation privileges for their own articles, as certain people tend to have their articles locked from further commenting when the overall opinion runs counter to their own views…

      • Sam Spade

        No yu got flagged for your stupidity and hatred

    • Sam Spade

      you are correct she miswrote the thing.

  • Janet Winter

    I’m very happy to hear Mike Lee now has a safe place to lay his head. The work he does for the homeless community in Berkeley is very important, and I expect this will enable him to do even more.

    • Sam Spade

      Thank you so very much. Already this spot has made a difference for folks. They are able to come over shower cook their own food charge phones rebuild their lives.
      I’m on active campaign in three different areas and have been recently asked to join the advisory board of the Village.

  • Anonymous

    This is beginning to sound like elder abuse – Mary Wainwright is 87 years old. What 87 year old person rents their property to a 45 year homeless man who intends to turn the apartment into an “epicenter” of homelessness and a storage facility for donated goods (“more stable base of operations”). It sounds like more investigative journalism is needed here and Hub needs some investigation too. Does she have relatives? Does she even live here or is this some relative messing with someone else’ property. Come on Daily Cal – get in there and dig. The place will be a mess soon. I do volunteer cleanup and know how fast the mess can become overwhelming. This whole thing doesn’t pass the smell test.

    • Sam Spade

      You are so silly. Ah I saw 45 a long time ago. Of course you can’t read so I’ll excuse you. Do you know who Mary is? Of course not. Learn how to wear shoes and stop fiddeling around with your mom before speaking out of turn

  • hoapres

    Sounds like we need to ship the Silicon Valley homeless to Berkeley.

  • hoapres

    The moral to this story is that if you are young then work hard and BUY a house. You probably won’t be able to do that in the Bay Area but you probably will be able to do that somewhere else. You can thank me 30 years later when you have a PAID OFF house.

    • Sam Spade

      You are so clueless. There is no such thing as workplace longevity. Your employment is totally at will and will be replaced by automation.
      You really need to do your research on home purchase in the bay area.

      • lspanker

        You HAD a job in Las Vegas and voluntarily LEFT it.

  • hoapres

    And how many trillions have we spent since LBJ on the War on Poverty. ??

    Are we really better off ??

    • Clark Sullivan

      How many trillions were wasted on the war machine?

      • hoapres

        And the point is ??

        If you are saying we spend too much on defense then I might agree with you. That doesn’t change the fact that we spent trillions on the war on poverty and didn’t get much for it.

        • Sam Spade

          It wasnt designed to do anything except placiate the ever growing rebelious working class

  • hoapres

    I know I am going to take a LOT of flack for the following.

    BUT

    For those of you that are relying on the GOVERNMENT to solve YOUR problem then well folks, crude English here and not meant to be rude, “it ain’t happening folks”.

    I along with a couple of friends met a 19 year old person that wanted to get ahead and get out of homelessness. Fine, this kid was willing to WORK (OK that might sound like a 4 letter word). We spent a couple of hours at a local library finding him a dishwasher job at a casino in Reno along with the casino giving him a room for a month so he could get on his feet. The only requirement of the casino was to figure a way to get to Reno (e.g. Bus ticket).

    So, let’s see.

    You can either wait for the government to solve your housing problem taking years or you can do it yourself in a matter of days.

    Seems like a pretty clear choice to me.

    NOW

    I am going to take a lot of flack from some people on this. Yes, yes, yes, I know the above won’t work for all. I get it.

    BUT

    It will work for at least SOME people.

  • Anonymous

    “store donations” and “an epicenter for the homeless community” – it’s a home, not a storage shed. He will be out of there inside of 6 months.

    • Sam Spade

      Wishfull thinking on your part. another hater who can’t read

  • BerkPed

    There are so many elderly women living on the streets of Berkeley.

    I hope we can get apartments for them too.

    When I walk around town, I see people who look like my own mother sleeping in cars and doorways.

    • Sam Spade

      yes its of great concern to me. Problem is they are basically invisible to the politicians. I have been told numerous times “but we never hear from them.” Of course not! f you had been beaten, raped, taken advantage over and over again would you talk a chance of getting hurt by calling attention to yourself? The answer is no. Unfortunately utill women individually and collectively speak up the situation will never change.

    • hoapres

      Right.

      Let’s see.

      How many elderly people really are homeless ?? What did these people do for the last 50 years, didn’t they save anything for retirement.

      • BerkPed

        There a 250,000 elderly homeless in this country.
        That is 10 homeless people for each of your disqus comments.

        • hoapres

          I doubt the number. Let’s assume that 1% of the population of this country is homeless then that puts it at about 3.5 million. So your number would be that 10% of the homeless is elderly. I guess that depends on your definition of elderly. If you consider 65 as elderly then I doubt the number. If you want to use 50 or older as elderly then you might not be far off.

      • Janet Winter

        A lot of people have worked hard all their lives. If they’ve been primarily homemakers, they reach retirement age and discover there’s no social security for them because they never “had a job”. Apparently, raising a family doesn’t count. I have one friend in her 80’s who never qualified for social security, and she’s one of the hardest working people I know, even now.

        Few employers offer a retirement plan these days. Just how are you supposed to save for retirement if working two jobs at minimum wage is barely enough to keep a roof over the heads of your family and food on the table. Show a little compassion and understanding for the working poor.

        • Sam Spade

          Thank Gawd someone with some sense. These dummies never seem to have learned you can’t win an argument with a woman. You simply nod your head znc xzy yes dear. Do that and we have less social problems

      • Scottyboy

        Some got their entire retirement robbed by Enron and the like.
        Corporate raiders are not wanting to sell off the desks and coffee machines.
        Looting pensions is where the money is.

  • hoapres

    Here is an idea.

    Try becoming unhomeless.

    Go to work and get sufficient job skills so that you can afford housing which might mean moving OUT of the Bay Area.

    OK

    That sounds cruel but sometimes you have to give people a reality check. Yes, I understand that everyone can’t take care of themselves. I get it.

    BUT

    A lot of people really can take care of themselves and don’t.

    Sure we have a homeless and poverty problem in this country. No doubt about that. But homeless is not typical. Millions and Millions of Americans actually do HAVE a home.

    • Sam Spade

      Gawd you must be new to this hater get a job thing. Stop for a moment and consider this. In this country we used to have this pull yourself up by your bootstraps perspective. I simply embraced that and put some damn hard work to get where im at at.
      Secondly how can you be so bold to tell some 72 year old woman to get a job. Oh no you would rather have her sitting on the sidewalk suffering. Being raped by some cretian who has no life except to make stupid comments like get a job

      • hoapres

        Well

        If you are 72 years old then hopefully you saved something for retirement.

        One of the reasons, I tell young people to get the heck out of the Bay Area is that they aren’t likely to own a house with these crazy prices.

        Go somewhere else and buy a house before 25 and by the time you are 55 then you will have a paid off house and never be homeless.

        • Sam Spade

          Geeze you really need some practice at this hater thing. Who is going to listen to you when you cant even get your facts straight

          • hoapres

            Hey

            I got the facts straight.

            Just because you don’t want to hear them doesn’t make them any less accurate.

          • Sam Spade

            Go back to school learn to read and wear shoes

          • hoapres

            Right

            I just call them the way I see them which unfortunately tends to be more often right than wrong.

            It isn’t society at large responsibility to take care of YOUR problem. It is YOUR job to take care of YOUR problem. And one of YOUR responsibilities, is to take care of business and house yourself.

            OK

            OK

            OK

            Sure there are exceptions. You got medical issues, etc. Fine. Society can help those people out.

            OTHERWISE

            You have to help YOURSELF out.

          • Sam Spade

            Learn to wear shoes and stop fiddeling with the neighbors dog.
            You are so full of hatred its unbelievable.
            I’m sorry your life is so screwed up you can blame other people. At the end of the day you are responsible for your situation. Damn shame you didn’t learn how to read. My story is one of the American dream. Work hard get rewarded.

      • lspanker

        How about if you STOP and consider THIS: You HAD a home AND a job somewhere else. You chose to VOLUNTARILY give that up and move to Berkeley, apparently without doing ANY type of research beforehand to see if you could even AFFORD to live there. WHO’S FAULT WAS THAT AGAIN? Now you’re taking up housing that could have been given to someone far more DESERVING of it. You must be quite pleased with yourself…

        • hoapres

          BINGO

          You figured it out.

        • Sam Spade

          No im pleased that the community worked together to resolve an issue that concerned all of them.
          If you weren’t so busy hating on people you would stop and think or at least consider what the hub is what its supposed to do and how much money it wastes

          • lspanker

            If you weren’t so busy being an annoying bum you could hold down a job like the rest of us, and pay your own rent.

          • Sam Spade

            I do have a job. Its annoying you with logic and reason. Gives you something to do besides fooling around with the cat.
            Excuse me i do pay rent. How is your job search going. Stop going to interviews drunk and you might land that career changing job at McDonalds

  • Sam Spade

    There are so many people I would like to tahnk. First is Dail Cal who over the years has never hesitated to provided a voice to the voiceless. Individual members of City Council, the Mayor and his staff, Councilmember Kriss Worthngton who at times have disagreeded with but have always found him a solid friend of the community. All the individuals who continually provided me wth much love, support and encouragement over the years. You are to many to name but you know who you are. Tp Cal student body for you have been my insiration. To every single homeless person thank you for allowing me to be your public servant and voice. While we have won this battle the war continues until together we build a society which place people before profit. Where t s not acceptable for anyone to be forced to sleep in doorways. Venceremous!

    • SecludedCompoundTTYS

      We need some profit to allow for public servants. I think we need a better balance.

      • Sam Spade

        No we don’t. Do your neighbors need politicians to speak with one another? No! You chat over the fence all the time. Why not chat about how together you can fiix the sidewalk. In short the government can do nothing for you that you can’t do for yourself. I’m an example of a community coming together and solving a common concern. They forced the public servants to do their job. Without these concerned folks I’d still be sitting in a tent

    • hoapres

      This won’t be popular for sure.

      I would like to thank God above that I live in America where one has a chance to get ahead.

      OK

      OK

      OK

      It isn’t popular being politically correct, etc. to thank God or be grateful for living in America, but that’s the way it is folks.