A year ago, someone in Britain thought it would be funny to trash a homeless man’s things. What’s happened since to the people involved?
In summer 2018, regulars around Lake Merritt in Oakland, CA watched a jogger dumping a local homeless man’s belongings – blankets, clothes, and all – into the water. Henry Sintay, who was later identified after cell phone video of his hateful act went viral, claimed he was “cleaning up.”
— Red Waz (@PostManWaz) June 13, 2018
Multiple witnesses tried to stop him. One man shouted “This is a person’s whole life!” while another asked “What gives you the right to do this?” Sintay responded by physically attacking one of the onlookers, Matt Nelson, and was arrested for misdemeanor battery and vandalism. He has since been sentenced to 5 years in prison.
The jogger who tossed a homeless man's belongings into a lake, Henry Sintay, has been arrested on robbery charges for allegedly stealing the phone used to record his actions. pic.twitter.com/aPkk5zKnwp
— AJ+ (@ajplus) June 12, 2018
But the story didn’t end there. Once the online attention died down, Oakland resident Kenzie Smith felt compelled to help out the homeless man Sintay had assaulted, known locally as Drew.
Smith recalls, “I took bottles of water. I took a blanket. I took food. I gave Drew the stuff and said, ‘Tomorrow I’ll be back.'”
Together with another witness to the assault named JJ, Smith pitched in for a tent for Drew. When they realized Oakland city ordinances required him to haul it away each morning, they didn’t give up – they decided to get him an apartment.
A GoFundMe campaign raised $14,000 for Drew’s apartment, as well as a prepaid phone. JJ and Kenzie found a barber to get him a free haircut and even helped him secure a job.
But, in the end, Drew turned it all down. “He declined the offer. He said the lake is his home, and he didn’t really want to be part of the world,” Kenzie explained. So the campaign money was instead donated to two homeless charities, and to this day Drew still lives by Lake Merritt. He’s reportedly still recovering from the madness of being part of a viral phenomenon.
Part of the reason why Drew turned down all this help may have to do with the soul-crushing realities of being impoverished and poor in Oakland. Things like what Sintay did aren’t actually that uncommon – it’s just that city authorities are usually the ones doing it.
Oakland is one of many West Coast cities hit hard by the arrival of tech companies, whose influx of employees has driven up housing prices. Although the city’s median income is just $60,000, three in 10 homes cost over $1 million. Other cities hit hard by this phenomenon include Berkeley, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle.
Things are so bad for the homeless here that a UN report condemned conditions in Oakland as “cruel and inhumane,” “a violation of several human rights,” and “a cruelty that might be unparalleled.”
Oakland’s homeless population grows 47 percent in two years https://t.co/1Ry4fyaahG
— THINKTANKREPAIR (@ThinkTankRepair) July 26, 2019
What do you think of Drew’s story? What should be done about homelessness in Oakland and across the West Coast? Let us know in the comments.