A group of people held a memorial service Friday for a homeless man who died on the street. Photo: Ted Friedman
A group of people held a memorial service Friday for a homeless man who died on the street. Photo: Ted Friedman

On Sunday, Berkeley police got a call about a dead body near the doorway of what used to be the U-Haul building on San Pablo Avenue and Addison Street. When they arrived they found a homeless man who appeared to have died of natural causes.

Six days later, a group of Berkeley residents gathered at the spot to commemorate the man, whose name was Roberto Benitas. He was 50. Most of those gathered only knew the man by sight but wanted to call attention to the fact that a homeless man had died on the streets.

“It seems very wrong for a person to die out of doors and their death isn’t noticed,” Linda Franklin wrote to Berkeleyside. “Their story needs to be told.”

Mike Lee, who is running for mayor, said he had known Benitas and had even shared some beers with him. Lee used the opportunity to criticize the way Berkeley deals with those who don’t have permanent housing. He characterized it as indifference, even though the city spends $3 million on social service agencies that try and help the homeless. Cheryl Davila, who is running for City Council in District 2, was also at the service, as was Mark Coplan, who is running for District 3.

Berkelyside contributing photographer Ted Friedman attended the service and took these photos.

Those at the service played music, brought flowers, and lit candles. Photo: Ted Friedman
Photo: Ted Friedman
Photo: Ted Friedman
Mayoral candidate Mike Lee condemned what he called willful indifference to the plight of Berkeley’s homeless, even though the city spends $3M a year on services. He said he’d stopped by and hung out with the deceased and that they shared some beers. Photo: Ted Friedman

Update, Sept. 26: This story has been updated to include the name and age of the man, as verified by the Alameda County coroner’s office.

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...