UC Berkeley students aim to repurpose flex dollars to help homeless people

Homeless Shelter
Amanda Ramirez/Staff
Students at UC Berkeley have created Big Change, an organization that is seeking to repurpose unused flex dollars to support homeless individuals in the community.

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Big Change, a new organization created by UC Berkeley students, is working to support homeless people in the Berkeley community.

One of Big Change’s current initiatives, which has gathered about 1,300 signatures on an online petition as of press time, is to allow students to donate their unused flex dollars before they expire Aug. 14. The group has also circulated an online interest form and a public document explaining its goals in detail.

In addition to meeting with campus administration, Big Change is reaching out to other community organizations and getting gloves, bags and hand sanitizer to safely distribute food donations, according to the petition.

Founder Sage Bennett, a rising sophomore at UC Berkeley, said the inspiration for Big Change stemmed from his own experiences of poverty and homelessness in the Bay Area.

“I’ve lived in hotels, cars, churches, motels, a storage unit — like, a lot of different places throughout my life,” Bennett said. “It made me realize what’s happening in our community and how nothing’s really getting better.”

Bennett acknowledged that there are efforts in the Berkeley community to support homeless people, but compared existing efforts to trimming a tree’s leaves and branches instead of addressing problems at its root.

Instead of limiting its operations to Berkeley, the group plans to eventually expand across California and the nation. Currently, the group has plans to register as a nonprofit organization.

According to Bennett, Big Change seeks to engage in long-term advocacy by connecting different organizations across the state that focus on reducing poverty and helping homeless people.

“We’re trying to create this united effort to actually tackle homelessness and make a real initiative towards ending it,” Bennett said. “Obviously, that’s not something you get done in one day.”

As for the talks with UC Berkeley about the flex dollar proposal, Bennett hopes campus administration might also help Big Change spread awareness by reaching out to students and faculty.

According to Bennett, Big Change currently consists of about a dozen members, most of whom are students at UC Berkeley. More than 30 people have filled out the interest form, Bennett added, and the group is also open to the general public.

“Everything about this year has just been insane,” Bennett said. “It’s time that we start to level it up a little bit in terms of, like, we make something good happen.”

Contact Jessica Li at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @JessicaLi57.