On Friday, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín announced, to the shock of many, that the city’s Second Street shelter will remain open for another month after receiving an anonymous $15,000 donation.
The shelter, which opened in December, was originally designated as a temporary winter shelter and was set to close after approximately two months. During a January meeting, Berkeley City Council allocated funding to keep the shelter open until April 15. Homeless community members had expressed anxiety over their plans after the shelter closed, according to Arreguín.
The Second Street shelter houses about 45 people per day and is constantly at capacity, Arreguín said. Many clients return repeatedly, and hundreds of people have been served at the shelter.
On Thursday night, Councilmember Sophie Hahn, who also aided in the effort to keep the shelter open, contacted a family that had previously expressed interest in helping the homeless. Within five minutes, she secured a $15,000 donation from the anonymous family that would keep the shelter open for another month.
“Thankfully, due to the generosity of this amazing donor from the community, we’re able to keep the shelter for another month,” Arreguín said. “It really was a miracle.”
Earlier Thursday morning, Arreguín and Jacquelyn McCormick, senior advisor to the mayor, also appealed to the community through the radio station KPFA to solicit funding for the shelter. An additional anonymous donor stepped forward that night, offering a donation of approximately $2,000.
Arreguín, Hahn and Councilmember Cheryl Davila announced Friday that the shelter would remain open for another month, to the excitement of the shelter’s clients.
“It was a very emotional moment,” Hahn said. “There was a great sigh of relief, clapping, crying — a number of gentlemen were weeping openly and hugging us. It’s just a very visceral reminder that we each in our community can do something that can really make a big difference for another person.”
Although many of the shelter’s clients expressed excitement over the announcement, homeless advocate Guy “Mike” Lee expressed dissatisfaction about the shelter system in general, stating that it “doesn’t promote the permanent nature of housing at all.” According to Lee, shelters provide a safe place for people to stay overnight, but they are expensive to maintain and do not promote security for the homeless.
“Without stability people have little or no chance to economically overcome their circumstances,” Lee said in an email. “It is a contradiction to provide shelter on one hand and criminalize people with the other.”
The Second Street shelter is a “stopgap measure” intended to act as one aspect of a series of facilities the city is implementing to aid the homeless, according to Hahn. Berkeley City Council recently approved the Pathways Project, which aims to provide homeless community members with resources to obtain permanent housing, such as a navigation center and a Bridge Living Community.