City updates plans for storage locker facility for homeless

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The city updated a storage unit pilot initiative for homeless individuals Friday, with proposed plans to add additional facilities and hire more city staff to oversee the program.

Located in Downtown Berkeley behind the Veteran’s Building, the facility will add 50 additional 64-gallon storage containers to those already existing at the site.

Proponents of the program envision the storage site as being secured and locked, with staff providing clients access seven days a week, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., according to a Friday off-agenda memorandum from interim city manager Dee Williams-Ridley to the Berkeley City Council.

The storage facilities would be of no cost to clients, according to city spokesperson Matthai Chakko.

Dale Yoders, a homeless individual who has lived in Berkeley for two years, said having storage would be helpful as long as the facilities were accessible. Yoders makes his living as a small street vendor on Telegraph Avenue, selling jewelry and other items.

Living out of his vehicle, Yoders said his car functions as both his home and a storage unit. He said that keeping his car amid Berkeley’s parking scene is highly difficult and that he risks accumulating tickets and having his car impounded, along with all of his belongings.

The storage could be “a safe place” for “my stuff that I have left in life,” Yoders said, such as baby photos, diplomas and other personal items. He added, however, that 50 lockers may be too few to satisfy high demand for such facilities.

Mike Lee, a homeless individual and city mayoral candidate, voiced concerns over the cost and accessibility of the facilities, which he thinks will be virtually unused.

“Housed people can go in their closet 24/7, (but) the same ability doesn’t apply to homeless people,” Lee said in an email.

To fund the program, an initial $50,000 is needed to construct the storage facilities, revamp the lockers and add lighting and security cameras. An ongoing program need of roughly $253,575 to $347,760 is required to finance operational costs and hire two full-time city staff members to manage the facility.

Chakko said the program would need to be funded entirely through the city’s general fund, constituting about 0.02 percent of its $160 million trust for the current fiscal year. He added, however, that City Council will still need to decide whether to allocate general funds for the storage program.

Elaine deColigny — executive director of EveryOne Home, an Alameda County homeless advocacy group — said that providing storage for homeless people could be helpful in the short term, although transporting items is a significant challenge. The real solution, deColigny said, is providing affordable housing.

In January, Berkeley started the Homeless Coordinated Access System, or The Hub, a coordinated support-services system for homeless people with the ultimate goal of finding them housing, Chakko said.

Yoders said that given Berkeley’s high rent prices, the only solution to getting “up and out” would be to leave Berkeley, which for Yoders would mean leaving his friends, his business and a unique mentality in which “everyone is accepted.”

“I really want to try everything I can to stay here,” Yoders said.

The storage units program will be submitted as an agenda item for the March 26 council meeting.

Contact Hannah Lewis at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @hlewis_dc.