Man reported to be homeless found dead outside Peet’s Coffee & Tea in Downtown Berkeley

Sonia Brin/Staff
Sonia Brin/Staff

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A man who was often seen on the streets in Downtown Berkeley was found unresponsive Thursday with no indication of foul play.

According to Berkeley Police Department spokesperson Jennifer Coats, BPD received a call Thursday morning alerting them of an unresponsive male near Shattuck Avenue and Bancroft Way. BPD and the Berkeley Fire Department were dispatched to the scene, where the man was immediately pronounced dead.

Lance Goree, operations manager of the Downtown Berkeley Association, says a Downtown Berkeley hospitality ambassador found the man unresponsive sometime between 7:30 a.m. and 7:45 a.m.

Goree said he does not know if the man was homeless, but he and other ambassadors have seen him before on the street. The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office Coroner’s Bureau has withheld the man’s identity, pending approval from his next of kin. They are awaiting toxicology results to determine cause of death.

While many of the homeless have found shelter from the rainstorms recently hitting town, others have been less fortunate. James, a homeless man in Downtown Berkeley, speculated that the weather is to blame for the man’s death, and that though shelters are available, space is never guaranteed.

“I got shelter last night from the storm,” James said. “But I guess tonight there’ll be no shelter.”

Tim Whitten, also known as Memphis, has been homeless for 16 years in 42 different states. He also suspected inclement weather was the cause of death and agreed that Berkeley does not have sufficient space in its shelters.

“I love Berkeley a lot — I’m about ready to leave, simply from the fact that there’s no homeless shelter to go to,” Memphis said. “Everything’s full.”

But many homeless individuals choose not to seek shelter by their own volition. Michael Nelson, program manager at the homeless shelter Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency, said there is reluctance to be a part of a program that enforces structure or rules such as curfews. However, many still actively seek help, and Nelson said increased funding is necessary.

Despite the inevitable rise in demand during the winter, according to Nelson, BOSS has only received funding from the city for five extra beds and hit capacity in December.

A lack of shelter space is only one facet of the difficulties the homeless face. J.C. Orton, the founder of Night on the Streets Catholic Worker and shelter coordinator for Berkeley Emergency Storm Shelter, said “shelters are not the answer” when it comes to improving homeless conditions, asserting that there are deep systemic and cultural issues at hand.

“The biggest difficulty is the fact that he’s so easily forgotten,” Orton said, who was at the scene when police arrived. “Read the obituaries — homeless are given short ones. They don’t count in today’s time.”

Another man who was reported to be homeless died in January in North Berkeley’s Codornices Park.

Contact Jean Lee at [email protected].