City to consider contract to provide shelter to Berkeley’s homeless during winter

As winter approaches, the city of Berkeley will consider dedicating more than $100,000 to provide shelter to the city’s homeless during the harsh winter months.

Berkeley City Council will decide at its meeting Tuesday whether to pay $76,000 to continue reserving beds for Berkeley’s homeless at the Oakland Army Base and $27,500 for transportation fees as part of the Winter Homeless Shelter Program, a joint effort with Oakland and Alameda County.

“We’ve done this for at least 10 years,” said Councilmember Gordon Wozniak. “There’s an increase of demand so the county and the city got together. So during this period of high demand, we provide additional beds.”

Through the program, 100 beds are available between November and April for Alameda County’s homeless, 50 of which are allocated to Berkeley’s homeless. Berkeley funds 32 percent of the total cost of the program, according to city documents.

“It’s in the budget,” said Jane Micallef, director of the city’s Housing and Community Services Department. “It’s really pretty much a formality.”

The remainder of the funding, $27,500, goes toward paying for BART fees to transport Berkeley’s homeless to Oakland.

Approximately 4,178 people are homeless in Alameda County on a given night and 1,116 of these are chronically homeless, according to a survey by the Alameda County-wide Homeless Continuum of Care Council this year. Of the chronically homeless adults, most are disproportionately concentrated in Berkeley and Oakland, according to the report.

The Winter Homeless Shelter Program is one of three remedies Berkeley utilizes to address the needs of the homeless in the winter, according to Micallef. Berkeley also offers vouchers for motels in the winter and provides emergency shelter for particularly wet or cold nights.

Susan Shelton, manager of the city of Oakland’s Community Housing Services, said the Winter Homeless Shelter Program has seen some financial difficulties this year compared to years before.

“In terms of budget cuts from the city of Oakland, we have been devastated really,” Shelton said. “We can tweak the program a bit to allow us to keep the program with the resources that we have.”

Shelton said those tweaks have forced cuts to building maintenance and rehabilitation programs. She added, however, that the shelter at the army base acts as a reinforcement rather than a primary shelter.

“The winter shelter at the army base is an overflow shelter,” Shelton said. “This particular shelter is used when (other) shelters are not sufficient.”

Though Oakland has seen financial difficulty recently, Micallef said Berkeley has not seen similar problems in securing funding for helping the homeless — a population which has fortunately been decreasing in recent years, she added.