Berkeley winter homeless shelter set to close doors, 90 displaced

Alexandra Nobida/Staff

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Two months ago, 55-year-old Curtis Tate, a Berkeley resident, came to the Berkeley Emergency Storm Shelter, or BESS, on a rainy night, having nowhere else to go. In just a week, he secured a job and was on track to get housing.

“I’ve got a foundation now. I didn’t have anywhere to go. … I was living and sleeping outside,” Tate said. “Being here enables me to get up and do that stuff.”

Now, however, BESS is set to close its doors April 15 after four months of operation. The shelter is hosted by Dorothy Day House and houses 90 people per night, which is the shelter’s maximum capacity, according to David Stegman, executive director for Dorothy Day House. Individuals who stayed at the facility have expressed gratitude for the shelter’s management in dealing with conflict and for the services provided.

“They’re closing this place up and it’s like, where does everybody go?” said Don Armenta, a 65-year-old homeless resident staying at the facility. “There’s not another shelter opening up until June.”

Last year, Dorothy Day House was able to postpone its original closure date until June 15 because of private funding. Other local homeless shelters have undergone the same experience, including the temporary Second Street shelter. According to Bob Whalen, the shelter’s program manager, the shelter has about 20 paid employees, five of whom are currently homeless and 10 of whom have been in the past.

In addition to providing accommodations and meals, BESS also provides various health services and housing information through visits from local agencies three days a week. These agencies include the Berkeley Food and Housing Project, Berkeley Free Clinic and Suitcase Clinic.

Dorothy Day House has run BESS through a contract with the city seasonally for 14 years. The city is anticipating that the current site will be developed for affordable housing.

Charlie Wright, a 46-year-old Berkeley homeless resident, said he is hoping to get into transitional housing at Harrison House but is uncertain whether the plans will come together.

“If Harrison House doesn’t work out, the third contingency planned would be an entry drug facility,” Wright said. “But if that doesn’t work, then I’ll be out there (without a place to live).”

Dorothy Day House is set to reopen the homeless shelter next year. The location is unknown, but the program will “certainly happen,” according to Stegman.

“It has been a very positive experience. It has provided me with shelter, of course, but it is very well run. They follow a policy of leniency and tolerance and understanding of behavior,” said Kevin Jue, a 57-year-old homeless resident who has been staying at the shelter. “It should serve as a model, their approach. This is the best one I’ve ever stayed in.”

Cade Johnson is the lead schools and communities reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @cadejohnson98.