By David Bacon
Michael Lee started living on the streets of San Francisco last May. He had traveled from Las Vegas to seek medical treatment. When he arrived, he searched for cheap, temporary housing in some of San Francisco’s most affordable neighborhoods, but he had seriously underestimated the cost of living in the nation’s most expensive city.
“I was under the impression the rent was $300 a month, and I brought the resources for 60 days,” he said in an interview. “I was going to go back to Las Vegas afterwards and go back to work. But the first place I walked into, they told me it was $300 a week. The next was $400 a week, and then $500. People were laughing at me—$300 a week is actually cheap on Skid Row. So I wound up living on the streets.”
Lee soon heard of a large encampment in Berkeley that homeless activists had set up to protest the US Postal Service’s (USPS) plan to sell Berkeley’s historic downtown post office building. So he moved across the bay and quickly became a leader of the Berkeley camp, advocating for a plan to transform the building into a community resource—“a homeless contact center run by homeless people.”