The June 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Court Upholds Legal Rights of Homeless People

Hunger Rises, Food Stamps Cut

National Hunger Survey

Union Busting in El Salvador

CEO Pay Rises, Worker Pay Shrinks

CEOs Scheme to Privatize Social Security

Dee's Story: The Stigma of Being Homeless

Bush's Chronic Homeless Plan

Pepperspray and Torture

How Earth Day Was Co-opted

St. Mary's Center

Life Stories of Homeless Seniors

Hodges Jones

Jose Querdo

Jeannette Hundley

James Jermany

Ken Minor

Lynn Hoberg

Social Justice in the East Bay

100 Teachings of Gandhi

June Poetry of the Streets

Students Poetry


May 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.

A Round-Up of Economic Justice Work in the East Bay

A memorial for Maria King, a rally for transportation justice and mental health advocacy

by Michael Diehl

Maria King Memorial

On Sunday, May 15, at the St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church in Berkeley, a memorial was held for Maria King, the homeless woman brutally stomped to death in February on University and California in Berkeley. One of the men who stomped her to death has never been caught and may pose a serious danger to others on the street. There is a reward for information on her death if it helps apprehend this killer.

Maria King stood up for many of the women, and men, on the street and actively expressed concern about the criminal element that preys on the homeless by forcing women into street prostitution, stealing their SSI checks, treating them with brutal aggression and intimidation, and making life on the streets a living hell.

Maria had been unable to find safe housing, and was brutalized herself before finally being murdered. If there had been a Housing First program in effect that did not cruelly insist that a person get clean and sober and cure themselves of their mental and physical pain before being helped, she might still have been alive today. I will miss her. She was a great storyteller and she really cared for other people out on the streets.

Transportation Justice

Homeless Oakland residents marched to an AC Transit hearing in May to speak out on how proposed fare hikes would harm very low-income people, but they ran into a wall in trying to have their voices heard.

Three homeless participants, all new to protest rallies, who marched with protest signs from the Oakland Homeless Project (OHP) to the AC Transit public hearing, were told they could not bring their signs into the hearing room. I asked if they could wait outside with the signs until the 4 p.m. rally began, so others who wanted to could go in and give their public comments to the AC bus transit board.

I went in to fill out my speaker's card, and got my number. But when I went back outside to check on the participants from my OHP Social Justice class, I found that security cops were throwing their signs out. The security force told them they couldn't have their signs anywhere around the building. They didn't care if there was to be a rally.

I tried to convince the participants to stay, and not give up; but they were quite discouraged at this mistreatment. They headed back for the Oakland Homeless Project, feeling that the powers that be have no interest in hearing from them, and angry at me for being unprepared, although I had said there was a good possibility we wouldn't be able to go in with the signs. Once again, they were left feeling that, for them, there is no justice possible.

They have their disabled bus passes which will be unaffected by the proposed changes; but they are still concerned about others on the streets, other low-income folks who will be negatively impacted if they raise fares to $1.75 or even $2 or eliminate bus transfers.

I went into the public hearing and spoke about what had happened. I also spoke about how Rosa Parks helped launch the civil rights movement in 1955 by an act of resistance on a city bus, and about how that bus riders strike had galvanized the community back then. I added that if the working poor in Oakland decided to protest the fare hikes and elimination of transfers by walking to work rather than taking the bus, even if it made them late, maybe the downtown Oakland business interests might see the wisdom in kicking down money for bus transit.

AC Transit board member Rebecca Kaplan talked of how Governor Schwarzenegger has taken away needed money from local bus transit; and she has even offered to help get a bus up to Sacramento to lobby against this serious cut in funding.

The local Bus Riders Union is now moving to become active again, which has been one of my goals this spring. I talked to some of them about the need for special bus passes for homeless people who don't have disabled passes but who need to get to services, jobs, and medical appointments. They said they could definitely include this proposal in the discussion if I would help build an alliance of those working with the homeless and very low-income people, which I have started to do.

There is serious talk that the AC bus transit board will push for a parcel tax to help the very poor and the youth negatively impacted by the plans presently under discussion. The board will vote on which of the five plans they will adopt on the morning of Thursday, June 9, at 9:30 a.m. at 1600 Franklin in downtown Oakland.

People are organizing to have a rally outside their meeting that morning to protest these plans and possible layoffs of bus drivers and service lines. Some may go on buses and hand out flyers to put pressure on the board, even though public comment was officially ended on June 18. There also are plans afoot to do a possible bus fare strike in the case of fare hikes or other "tax increases" on the poor.

Mental Health Services Act

We in Berkeley are moving to put together consumer and community stakeholder meetings in the Telegraph and Shattuck downtown areas with a particular focus to reach out and deal with those suffering on the streets. The Berkeley Mental Health Commission had a consumer forum for the street youth at the YEAH shelter (before they closed in April) that went very well. BOSS and other groups held a very special consumer forum for Alameda County at the First Unitarian Church on April 20 with 250 clients participating. Alameda County planning groups have started in May; I am involved in the one on Housing and Homelessness.

I spoke on the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) at the "May is Mental Health Month" event held on May 14, sponsored by the Berkeley Mental Health Commission. A number of clients came and joined us from the Oakland Independent Support Center and PEERS, and I plan to work further with them. On the state level, the California Network of Mental Health Clients has successfully lobbied against the use of MHSA money for involuntary services, and raised issues around services in the prisons and involving those on conservatorship.

Michael Diehl is a community organizer with Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency (BOSS). Visit their website at

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

E-mail: Spirit

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