Emergency homeless shelter to remain open, says Berkeley City Council

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Vivian Roan/Staff

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Berkeley City Council voted Tuesday to extend a winter emergency shelter through June 30, despite safety concerns from neighbors.

Dorothy Day House in Berkeley lacks eligibility requirements and a formal referral process for its residents. The shelter was originally intended for use during the cold, rainy winter season, but its stay has been extended repeatedly.

A group of activists from Berkeley High School, or BHS, voiced its concern about the shelter’s closure, advocating that the council keep it open.

“This is a uniquely effective operation that makes a uniquely important contribution,” sai BHS senior Violet Buxton-Walsh at the meeting. “I’ve seen the work that they do there — having the ability to do that for another year would do the service great justice.”

Those who live near the shelter have become frustrated with what they believed was going to be a temporary solution, saying the constant noise from sirens and shelter residents makes them fear for their safety.

“We’re just asking for process, planning,” said Steve Kromer, who lives next-door to the shelter. “They keep kicking the can down the road.”

The council debated how long the shelter should be kept open, as well as how the shelter should be advertised. Because the shelter is listed on Alameda County’s website, council members said they were concerned that people from other cities have been coming to stay at the shelter. Councilmember Kate Harrison said the shelter lacks the structure to determine the needs of residents.

The council voted to keep the shelter open for another two months, but with the added provision that the shelter would be taken off the Alameda County website to give priority to Berkeley residents. In the meantime, council members said they plan to work with other cities to create a more permanent shelter model.

“It is absolutely devastating to visit that shelter,” said Councilmember Sophie Hahn at the meeting. “Alameda County needs to know what population we’re actually serving. Someone needs to take responsibility for it and it can’t just be us.”

The council also voted to support a state bill, SB 1227, that aims to increase student housing and remove requirements to provide parking spaces in developments that primarily serve students.

Harrison offered amendments to the bill, suggesting that developers could pay fees in lieu of building new student housing — an idea criticized by many residents during public comment.

“What we need is housing now, not housing in the future,” said Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board member Moni Law at the meeting. “Fees in lieu builds 10 years down the road.”

The council ultimately decided against implementing in lieu fees for this specific bill, but recommended an amendment that would require universities to assess each student’s financial aid status to determine who qualifies for low-income housing.

“Students need to have affordable housing, not market-rate housing. Period,” said Councilmember Cheryl Davila at the meeting.

Contact Madeleine Gregory at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @mgregory_dc.