UC Berkeley to include supportive housing for homeless in People’s Park redevelopment

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Daniel Kim/File

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Berkeley’s iconic People’s Park could include supportive housing for its homeless residents in the future, as part of UC Berkeley’s larger effort to redevelop the site.

The proposal — first outlined in a January report produced by UC Berkeley’s housing task force — intends to allocate the land to satisfy four distinct purposes: student housing, supportive housing for the homeless, open space and memorialization of the park’s history. Since the initial proposal was drafted, campus administration has been collaborating closely with the city of Berkeley in developing a plan, according to campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof.

Sam Davis, campus professor emeritus of architecture and Chancellor Carol Christ’s representative to the city on homelessness, said in an email that the campus’s efforts to support the homeless community at People’s Park would not only provide community members with physical homes, but also with supportive programs linked to the campus’s schools of social welfare and public health. According to Davis, students in these schools would be able to contribute to the supportive programs through internships.

“The proposal to build supportive housing for formerly homeless is based on the need, but also on the campus providing leadership in developing real solutions to societal problems,” Davis said in his email.

Davis added that the supportive housing would occupy only a small portion of the land, and it would not be operated by the campus, but by a nonprofit with experience running this type of housing. The campus has also hired a social worker to assess the needs of homeless community members in and around People’s Park. The social worker, who will earn an annual salary of $92,000, began his two-year appointment July 17, according to Mogulof.

Davis said in his email that the the social worker’s responsibilities also include working and negotiating with the city of Berkeley.

“The City of Berkeley, despite increasing their outreach capability, does not have the resources to help all of the city’s 850 homeless,” Davis said in his email. “Our social worker will be coordinating with the city’s staff as well as those in the community-based organizations with which the city has contracts.”

Elaine de Coligny, executive director of homelessness prevention group EveryOne Home, said she thought the campus’s supportive housing plan was a “creative and exciting idea.”

“What I think is important is that the university is talking about permanent support,” De Coligny said. “What really solves homelessness is housing, and because we have such a high number of unsheltered people in Berkeley … I think the impetus to figure out a permanent solution is key.”

De Coligny added that she was impressed by the campus’s commitment to honoring the park’s historic significance.

Shaunette Williams, a local homeless advocate and single mother of two, also expressed support for the campus’s efforts to provide supportive housing for the homeless community, adding that she hoped the campus would name the housing structure after Mark Hawthorne, or “Hate Man,” a locally famous Berkeley figure who lived in People’s Park and died in April. Homeless advocate Guy “Mike” Lee, however, criticized the campus’s proposal, calling it “a hype.” Lee said he didn’t believe the campus would be able to follow through on its plans.

Lee also said he disagreed with the campus’s decision to hire a social worker, adding that he believed the campus should have used those resources to assess the needs of campus students.

“I don’t think it’s in the best interests of Cal students to redevelop People’s Park,” Lee said.

According to Mogulof, campus administration is making a “concerted effort” to involve members of the city and campus communities on matters related to the development of People’s Park. Mogulof acknowledged the diversity of opinion regarding the park’s future, adding that the campus is “encouraged” by the responses it has received so far.

“Our plans will respect the history of the land while providing needed housing in a socially responsible way,” Mogulof said in an email.

Contact Harini Shyamsundar at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @hshyamsundar.