Longtime activist Guy “Mike” Lee died at the age of 64.
A passionate advocate for homeless rights, Lee was heavily involved in community activism for years. Notably, he participated in the occupation of People’s Park to protest UC Berkeley’s plan to build a volleyball court and ran for mayor on a platform focused on homelessness and housing affordability.
Lee moved from Portland, Oregon, to the Bay Area to live with his uncle in Daly City at age 13. In his later teens, Lee moved to the Bay Area permanently and spent much of his life living on the streets of Berkeley.
When he was 62, Lee left the South Berkeley homeless encampment that he had been living in and moved into an apartment he acquired through the city’s Coordinated Entry System.
“I am saddened to hear of the sudden passing of Mike Lee. Mike dedicated his life to fighting for justice and cared deeply about Berkeley,” said Mayor Jesse Arreguín in a statement. “He worked to protect People’s Park, save our Downtown Berkeley Post Office and was a powerful and effective voice for the homeless.”
According to Arreguín, Lee’s 2016 campaign for mayor made the needs of the homeless population a central focus for Berkeley. Arreguín added that Lee’s activism resulted in policies and programs to help the most vulnerable people in the city.
According to Andrea Henson, former lead organizer of the “Where do we go?” homeless encampment and advocacy organization, Lee was known for his strong opinions and supported “Where do we go?” from its inception.
“We need more of that. We need more people who are ready to run for public office and engage in a dialogue,” Henson said. “He was an active participant in democracy who didn’t compromise what he believed in.”
Berkeley mayoral candidate Aidan Hill said Lee would often go to Berkeley Homeless Commission meetings. Hill, vice chair of the commission, said Lee’s comments at the meetings inspired them to do more advocacy work on the ground level.
According to Henson, Lee could always be counted on to attend meetings surrounding homeless issues, never letting his struggle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease stop him.
“He was a complicated guy; ‘uncompromising’ and ‘hardheaded’ would be the words that would come to mind. Also, ‘kind,’ ” said People’s Park Committee member Lisa Teague. “He always was very concerned about making sure that people get fed, and that comes from kindness.”
Teague added that Lee had a “wicked sense of humor” and was never afraid to “shake up the status quo.”
City Councilmember Sophie Hahn recalled how Lee worked hard to help homeless individuals while living on the streets himself and how he continued to advocate after his own rehousing.
“He was a brilliant and persistent advocate, and worked hard to help the homeless find comfort and stability, even while living on the streets,” Hahn said in an email. “He expected more from society and government, and always knew he was fighting not just for the homeless, but for basic human rights.”