Berkeley officials examine possible locations for permanent homeless shelter

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Amanda Ramirez/File

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City officials are currently exploring possible locations for a new permanent shelter that will replace the Berkeley Emergency Storm Shelter, or BESS, after a brainstorming session last week.

The temporary shelter, located on Ninth Street, is set to close Friday. According to Jacquelyn McCormick, senior adviser to Mayor Jesse Arreguín, the temporary shelter is closing because its original use was to be an emergency housing option during the winter months. Although the city has managed to extend the shelter’s time until now, it is looking at more permanent options.

According to Councilmember Kriss Worthington, some of the possible locations for the new shelter include the West Berkeley Senior Center, the Veterans Memorial Building and Old City Hall.

Homeless activist Guy “Mike” Lee said in an email that the city claims the temporary shelter is closing down for renovation purposes but that the closure is actually because Berkeley Food Network will become a paying tenant at the Ninth Street location this Friday.

“It was a temporary winter shelter that was only supposed to be in operation through March. The city was able to put together some funding to keep it open until June, and some additional funding to keep it open until August,” McCormick said. “We are in a situation where we are out of compliance by health and safety and fire code.”

McCormick said other locations suggested at the meeting included privately owned properties, such as an Orchard Supply Hardware store location that will soon be vacated. But such locations pose regulatory issues concerning residential use of commercial spaces, she said.

The city is working “diligently,” McCormick added, to complete the permanent shelter, but it is facing challenges from both the public and higher levels of government. McCormick said she feels that the state and local governments are not making the changes necessary to alleviate the homelessness crisis.

“Therein lies the problem: in our state and local government not embracing this to be the crisis that it is, and having the will to allow the kind of changes and exceptions to be made to address what truly is crisis,” McCormick said.

Worthington said city staff are evaluating the potential sites to determine how much each would cost, as well as how quickly each project could be completed.

Although the emergency shelter is scheduled to close Aug. 31, McCormick anticipates that the process will extend past that date since the city, as of now, does not have any relocation options for those currently residing at the temporary shelter. These people have nowhere to go, she said.

“It’s incredibly frustrating. It’s beyond frustrating. … People are suffering, and we are doing all we can and getting screamed at by the public that we aren’t doing enough. And they are right — we are not doing enough,” McCormick said. “It’s not like the bread is going to multiply to feed the multitudes.”

Contact Sabrina Dong at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Sabrina_Dong_.