Public Comment

Commentary: Commemorating King by Helping the Homeless

By Troy Skwor
Friday January 25, 2008

On this day reflecting over Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, we remember his famous words: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”  

However, other quotes from Martin Luther King Jr. in the same talk don’t ring as frequently: “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  

On this day of remembrance in 2008, storm clouds fill the sky, gloom lingers in the atmosphere, and rains saturate the ground as the right of life and pursuit of happiness mimic the weather amongst the hundreds of homeless residing within the East Bay of California. It is here that a non-profit organization, Nights on the Street - Catholic Worker, attempts to make life a little happier by easing hunger pains and providing ponchos to help repel the rain. Outside on the corner of College and Dwight, in the Newman-Holy Spirit parking lot, a handful of volunteers ranging in race, age, and stages of life provide a full meal including salad, beans, fried chicken, and juice to over a 150 people indiscriminate of job status, drug afflictions, race, sex, religious background, medical condition, etc. As many cuddle in front of a warm fire with a hearty meal throughout this cold, rainy season in the East Bay, it is easy to forget about our brothers and sisters on the streets. As volunteers and friends, members of Nights on the Streets hear their stories, visit them in hospitals and prisons, attempt to comfort and attend services in the loss of friends and family, etc. For whatever reason, post-war syndromes, broken families, raped and battered children and/or adults, spiritual journeys, physical handicaps, neurological disorders, etc, these fellow brothers and sisters lay on the streets unable to support a roof over their head amidst astronomical tenant prices consistent in the East Bay. Organizations like Nights on the Streets attempt to lessen the suffering even if for a couple of hours.  

Nights on the Street - Catholic Worker is an organization that was developed here in Berkeley by J.C. Orton over 10 years ago to help serve those in need on “their turf.” It started and continues to run out of Mr. Orton’s house, which has been transformed into a soup kitchen and “supply warehouse” housing crates of canned foods and stacks of sleeping bags and ponchos. Volunteers come together every Sunday morning from 7:30-9 a.m. to serve breakfast, including oatmeal, grits, English muffins, eggs, fruit juice, coffee and hot chocolate to those in need at People’s Park (2556 Haste St.) and Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park (MLK Way between Allston Way and Center).  

During the winter months, volunteers drive along the main streets of Berkeley three nights a week bringing hot soup and hot chocolate with a smile to the homeless and needy, in addition to handing out hundreds of ponchos, jackets, and sleeping bags. On average, between 50-100 people anxiously await the “blue van’s” soup on wheels. On nationally recognized holidays, like MLK Jr. Day, where the government takes a vacation from feeding our homeless, Nights on the Streets provides a full meal. 

Until we can figure out a way to end homelessness and poverty in America, we have a responsibility to treat all humans with dignity and respect regardless of race, sex, job, income, social activities, religious preference, etc. Rev. King had a dream: equality for ALL . . . let’s continue striving to make this dream a reality. We take a moment to thank all of those who volunteer financially, physically and/or spiritually with humanitarian work aiding “in a dream.”  

If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation (financial, clothing and/or food) or volunteer with Nights on the Streets, please contact J.C. Orton at 684-1892 or e-mail:  


Troy Skwor is on Nights on the Street - Catholic Worker’s board of directors.