Standing by her shopping cart, tired, dirty and winded, the homeless woman with a stack of newspapers walks slowly to almost everyone in the passing only to find them walking away from her with strange looks mixed with some shy awkward smiles.
She has her dirty blonde hair tied up with a thick black sweater and torn jeans in the middle of Shattuck, Downtown Berkeley- that also on a sunny Sunday morning when almost everyone is in smiles trying to enjoy the day.
“Please take a paper and spare some change”… “I have not had anything to eat today,” said the poor homeless lady trading newspapers for dimes at a busy corner.
Curious to know her story, I stood next to her and traded a quarter for a paper. The newspaper was titled Street Spirits. According to their website, its a “publication of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) that reports extensively on homelessness, poverty, economic inequality, welfare issues, human rights issues and the struggle for social justice. For the past 10 years, Street Spirit has been dedicated to empowering poor and homeless people and giving a voice to the voiceless, at a time when the voices of the poor are virtually locked out of the mainstream media.”
Her name was Joann Knott, 46 years of age and a single mother of a 16-year-old boy. The two were living in a nice house back in Detroit, Michigan just five years ago before becoming homeless in Berkeley.
Ms. Knott was employed as a “Professional Petitions Consultant” with a firm that works to organize and operate petition drives for organizations wishing to gain support on bills introduced in the area.
Ms. Knott arrived in California four years ago in pursuit of a job as a Professional Petitions Consultant here, and hoping to start her own business.
“Berkeley and the Bay Area in general is highly active in the process of creating petitions for voters in demand of various changes in the law,” she said.
“I thought I could easily land a good job in the local market.”
However, despite her numerous attempts to secure a job here, she failed and instead ended up spending all her money and became homeless.
Though Ms.Knott is homeless, she is still in pursuit of a job in Berkeley and interns at the local chapter of Peace Action West to advocate for nuclear ban and peace.
“I’ve protested against nuclear weapons since the early 60’s and it was my fortunate luck to able to intern and get paid at Peace Action West” she said.
Peace Action West is an organization dedicated to building a citizen’s movement of sustained political power for fundamental changes in United States foreign policy. They are also one of the largest grassroots peace and justice lobby in the country.
According to an article in the American Journal of Public Health, over 7% of persons living in the United States, which equals 2149045.85, have been homeless (defined as sleeping in shelters, the street, abandoned buildings, cars, or bus and train stations) at some point in their lives.
Testing those statistics, I walked across to the café shop to a man sitting outside with a cup of coffee, and his New York Time puzzle on the table. After a few minutes of explaining my project to him, he agreed to talk to me.
“Homelessness in Berkeley is at rise because this city is so liberal and keen to paying for the homeless,” said the 36-year-old Wells Fargo Banker Marcus Reading.
“Why should we support a bunch of people that just sit around downtown begging for money, when the rest of us are working our butts off” he said.
Ms.Knott has her son enrolled at the Berkeley High School where there is funding available for families without homes.
“The diverse range of people here is what makes the city of Berkeley attractive and the people are just too nice” she said. “They never let you go hungry”.