The November 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

AFSC Honors War Resisters

David Harris: A Stirring Call to Conscience

Leonard McNeil: Resisting 'Rich Man's Wars'

Karen Meredith: A Mother's Plea for Peace

Not One More Death, Not One More Dollar

Massive Police Sweeps in Contra Costa County

Housing First for Poor Families

Landlords Sue to End Just Cause

Struggle to Save the Free Box

YEAH! Shelters Homeless Youth

Gentrification in Berkeley

New Home for East Bay Law Center for Poor

Wal-Mart Pushes Philanthrophy

Sutter Health's War Against Health Workers

Growing Gulf Between Rich and Poor

Inequality in America

Poor Leonard's Almanack: On Forgiveness


October 2005

September 2005

August 2005

July 2005

June 2005

May 2005

April 2005

March 2005

February 2005





Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

The Struggle to Save the Free Box

by Robert Mills

The free box in People's Park was burned down, and UC officials resisted plans to rebuild it, so the Hate Man created his own free-clothing box. Lydia Gans photo

For more than a decade, a container known as the "free box" has been in place at People's Park in Berkeley. People who wanted to discard unwanted clothes could use the free box to give clothing to homeless people who frequent the Park.

Last February, someone set fire to the free box and destroyed this very important resource. Many people on the street are despairing over the fact that the free box is gone. The aftereffect is that people have no place to deposit used clothes which can be freely recycled to the needy.

To make matters worse, University of California officials destroyed two new models of the free box in late September. On September 21, UC officials demolished a foundation for a new free box built by homeless activists in People's Park; and four days later, UC police tore apart two crates set up to replace the free box.

One social service provider attempted to take several bags of clothing to the free box, only to learn that they would be thrown out. She then tried to take the clothes to other places which distribute clothing, only to be turned away. One agency told her to give the clothes to an organization which would send them to the needy in Africa or elsewhere. She wondered how she could get the clothes to the needy here in our own backyard.

Since the disappearance of the free box from People's Park, I have observed the trashing of unwanted clothes in front of secondhand stores on University Avenue in Berkeley. On many mornings, a stack of clothes can be found strewn about the street in front of the Salvation Army store and Goodwill Store. I run into street people wanting to have a change of clothes and not being able to find any which are free.

The places usually designated frequently run out or do not have the right size, and so the search for clothes becomes a difficult task. Many try to stay protected from the elements, while others need a change of clothing for a job interview. We often forget that clothing is as important to survival on the street as food and health care. It is part of good hygiene; and without a basic change of clothes, it becomes impossible to stay clean and be presentable.

Hence, people I encounter on the street often ask me when the free box is coming back. Recently, two people told me how the free box saved their lives from the elements; and three others told me that clothes they found in the free box helped them get through a job interview and find work.

So a group was formed to rebuild the free box in People's Park. This group has been organizing work teams to build the box so that it would be a lasting container. One Sunday in September, we went to work on beginning the foundation.

Steel posts were already placed on the site. Before we could even put the concrete in, the UC Police came and told us to stop what we were doing because we were committing "vandalism." The police said that if we continued to rebuild the free box, we would be arrested for vandalizing the park. More than a dozen of us sat in a circle around the new construction, and linked our arms. We were determined to finish the free box project.

According to UC officials, the free box had too many "problems" associated with it, including fights and vandalism. This is the reason that UC officials denied authorization for the return of the free box. According to Irene Hegarty, UC director of community relations, the free box was associated with drugs, and homeless people fought over the clothes.

Jim Hynes, assistant to the Berkeley City Manager, said the problems associated with the free box have hurt city resources as well. But Michael Diehl, a homeless organizer and DJ for Berkeley Liberation Radio, said he has heard from homeless folks that these problems have increased in the neighborhood since the disappearance of the box. The real issue is not the presence of the box. Homeless people need to have clothes.

Other concerns which have arisen lately over People's Park indicate that it is a control issue between the community and UC Berkeley. The advisory board was abolished recently. People's Park staff, who are UC employees, have more control over the park than does the community. The City of Berkeley has relinquished its role for People's Park. Trees have been cut down by the UC. Some believe that UC officials may be planning to retake the Park for student housing or other university priorities.

To help resolve these issues, City Councilmember Kriss Worthington called for a community forum. Worthington denounced the UC administration's "shameful secrecy and senseless surprises" in destroying the free box.

Park supporters have reactivated the People's Park Council and are calling for the community to be vigilant against any university plans to dismantle the park.

Assaults on homeless people

Meanwhile, there are increasing reports of assaults on homeless people along the BART corridor between Berkeley and Oakland. In downtown Berkeley, a group of about four teenagers have been witnessed taking thrill rides during the day and at night, and assaulting homeless people. An unidentified woman who was standing near the entrance of the Downtown Berkeley BART station was punched in the face by this group; and two hours later, homeless activist Michael Diehl was assaulted by four teenagers near the Ashby BART station.

In late October, I received reports from two other homeless men who were attacked. One was sleeping in the park when an unidentified person dropped an entire stack of newspapers on his head, stunning him, and cutting his head.

Another man was sleeping near a bus stop in front of the library when he too was assaulted in the same manner. He described the person as a teenager wearing a red jacket and long, oversized T-shirt and hip-hop-style pants. At the end of October, a street musician told me a group of four teenagers mugged him and attempted to take his wallet. Another homeless man and veteran who is disabled had his wallet and money taken from him -- he is in wheelchair.

These violent attacks have occurred both during the day and night. It seems that no one cares and the police are too busy doing other things to concern themselves with the homeless being attacked.

It Takes a Community to Rebuild A Box

by "Perfesser" Mark Creek-Water

I'm sitting here at a meeting in Berkeley's world-famous People's Park. The acting mayor of Berkeley is here, sitting in a circle with about 20 other folks. Already this meeting is boring me.
The meeting is about rebuilding the free-clothing box, a long-term People's Park tradition until somebody burned it down many months ago. And then somebody burned the new free-clothing box which folks built to replace the old one....

Already, we've talked about several ideas, such as: contacting the media about this issue; requesting or demanding that University of California administrators meet with us about this issue of the destruction of useable clothing; building a coalition to include students and nearby residents around this issue; and so on.

I'm trying to reckon: What can I do to make an impact? How about this: Just today, I got a nice pair of shoes and a nice T-shirt from the temporary free-clothing box which we set up today. Plus, two of the first few speakers at this meeting -- People's Park "regulars," and perhaps homeless and/or houseless -- said that they got all the clothing which they were wearing "from the free box." They said: "We don't want no more food -- we got enough food. We want our free box back."

In fact, some folks already started rebuilding the free box, approximately two week before this meeting. And guess what? Evidently, under cover of darkness, some University of California security people removed the work which had been done to rebuild the free-clothing box.
So it looks like a clear case of good guys against bad guys. The bad guys are the UC administrators who evidently ordered the partially rebuilt free-clothing box to be removed about two weeks ago. The good guys are us -- those of us who want to rebuild the free-clothing box.

This is how I feel about this issue. How do you feel?

Mark Creek-Water can be reached at

1515 Webster St,#303
Oakland, CA 94612Phone: (510) 238-8080, ext. 303

E-mail: Spirit

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