Christmas Should Be All Year

By Mariana Castilho Rogedo
Friday December 21, 2007

Christmas time in December is the time to buy gifts for family and friends. It’s the perfect time to spend with family, have a lunch or dinner together, and enjoy your lives. It’s the time to be benevolent and kind. The most important thing for most people these days is buying new stuff: cars, phones, furniture, computers, new technology, clothes, food, etc. We live in society driven by consumerism. It is more important to HAVE than to BE.  

On the contrary, we see so many people living on the streets of our city. In Berkeley there are more than 1000 people living on the streets without a home and that number may be well over 7000 in the whole of Alameda county.  

You can help in different ways: volunteering at shelters, donating clothes and food, and giving your time. To find out about places where you can help, check the yellow pages under housing assistance and shelters. Your action will not be the solution to the problem, but your contribution and positive attitude will bring us closer to a solution. Some of the places help only young people or women. Most people can sleep or rest there, but they have to follow the shelter’s restrictions on length of time they are allowed to stay. The restrictions can be difficult for people who don’t like to be controlled or have their freedom curtailed.  

Mike Sitabo, 44, has lived on the streets since 2004. He said that he is happy living there. “Before, I worked as a machinist for five years. I lost my job because I was using alcohol. Then I became homeless, but I’m happy.” He makes enough money to eat, 20 dollars per day, or 50 when he sells items at the recycling center. “I sleep in the shelter only when it is raining because I don’t want to lose my freedom.”  

Similarly, Michael Harris, 52, has lived on the street for the last three years. He thinks that at Christmas time people are more generous and give more gifts and money. “People are more charitable at that time. They love me! They give me money, clothes, food. They pray with me.” 

Michael said that he was working in San Francisco in a restaurant when he lost his job. He said that he has a medical condition in his heart and he cannot work. “I want to be on the street. I make my own choices and nobody tells me what to do.” He has 2 two daughters, 9 and 10 years old, living in Oakland, and he tries to save all the money he makes for them. “Most people live on the street because they use drugs or alcohol, but I don’t like that. I like to live on the street and I’m saving my money for my daughters.” For Michael, having an apartment could change his life.  

Practicing solidarity and helping people should be something we do all year, not only at Christmas time. We can help in different ways: giving gifts, buying food, being helpful, or even just giving a smile. 


Photograph by Mariana Castilho Rogedo  

Michael Harris, 52, living on the street for the three years, looks forward to Christmas.