City Council meets to address lack of winter resources for homeless residents

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Berkeley City Council is taking steps toward establishing more shelter spaces and resources for homeless residents for the coming winter after a regular meeting Tuesday night.

The most discussed item of the night was regarding the state of emergency shelters and services in the city, which ended with the council recommending the city manager consider increasing warming centers, shelter beds and access to bathrooms for the homeless.

More than a dozen members of the public showed up to voice their opinions on the agenda item.

Various community members expressed concerns that The Hub — the city’s central system for homeless services — is ineffective and that the city police allegedly harass the homeless.

“(They spend) more time trying to stop me instead of trying to house my community,” said Mike Zint, a member of Berkeley’s homeless community, at the meeting.

One suggestion brought up by Joey Shemuel, a local social worker, is to allow homeless communities to maintain camps and to send shower buses and trash pickups to assist the areas, similarly to programs that already exist in the Bay Area.

“Think creatively as we’re facing shelter struggles and really use our resources in a creative and kind way,” Sally Hindman, executive director Youth Spirit Artworks, told the council at the meeting.

In response to the concerns about The Hub, Mayor Tom Bates pointed out that 6,000 people have already used the center. Councilmember Linda Maio also explained how federal funding guidelines require the city to have a central place of intake.

Another issue raised at the meeting is that with the recent fire at the First Congregational Church of Berkeley earlier this month, the city lacks a winter shelter. The city has plans to have a new shelter ready for the upcoming winter season.

“We have a good list of locations,” said Paul Buddenhagen, director of the Health, Housing and Community Services Department, at the meeting. “We will have a winter shelter, it’s just a matter of the location.”

In addition to passing potential increases to access of bathrooms and warming centers for the winter, the council also approved the creation of an ad hoc committee to look into possible areas for a homeless camp. This committee, suggested initially by Councilmember Laurie Capitelli, will consist of City Council members Capitelli, Jesse Arreguin, Maio and Darryl Moore and is expected to report back to City Council next week.

Councilmember Max Anderson proposed a moratorium on police chasing homeless residents, though the item was not voted on.

During the meeting, City Council also approved creating a standing committee on relations between the city, UC Berkeley and students. This committee will meet five times a year and discuss issues such as housing and public safety.

“I see it as a wonderful opportunity to increase communication in an informal way to really gain an understanding to have the students participate and come forward with their issues,” said Councilmember Susan Wengraf at the meeting.

At the start of the meeting, City Council passed a motion to examine the Alameda County probate court process in light of recent evictions and to ask the city manager to look into increasing parking permits for Berkeley Unified School District employees. In addition, during opening public comment, protesters from the Berkeley Animal Rights Center showed up in numbers to protest the possible termination of its lease.

Alex Fang covers city government. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @alexfang_DC.