The Pathways STAIR Navigation Center opened Tuesday, complete with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10 a.m. inaugurated by Mayor Jesse Arreguín and a tour of the freshly painted facilities.
The center, located on Second Street between Cedar and Virginia streets, will offer shelter, meals, showers and laundry facilities for up to 45 people, as well as a variety of services, including assistance in finding permanent housing.
“The goal is to transform lives by moving people off the streets and toward self-sufficiency,” Arreguín said at the event.
The temporary modular structures have been customized, with two communal sleeping units with private partitions, a restroom facility, a kitchen and community room, a laundry room, a services office and a “welcome hut.”
All structures are equipped with ramps for accessibility, and between the buildings are artificial turf sections and plants growing in troughs, with shade structures and wood-hewn benches.
Paul Buddenhagen, the city’s Health, Housing and Community Services Department director, said the Pathways center will begin its services Wednesday, and that the city will prioritize citizens who have been homeless for more than a year and people with disabilities.
Bay Area Community Services, or BACS, a nonprofit that manages a larger navigation center in Oakland, is partnering with Berkeley to provide outreach and housing placement services for residents of the center, who may stay for up to six months.
“From the first moment, we develop a housing path depending whether an individual is on a social security track, an employment track or a substance abuse treatment track,” said Jamie Almanza, BACS executive director.
About half a million dollars from the project’s operating budget is set aside to find permanent housing for Pathways residents, according to Arreguín. He added that the city also intends to continue fundraising for the permanent housing fund.
Benjamin Blake, chief clinical strategy officer for BACS, said the organization has many people who are “rental ready” in Oakland, but there aren’t apartments available. East Bay Community Law Center supervising attorney Osha Neumann agreed that the limiting factor is a lack of affordable subsidized housing in Berkeley and Oakland.
“Our goal is to keep people in Berkeley,” Buddenhagen said. “Housing costs in Berkeley make that really difficult.”
Housing advocate and founder of Consider the Homeless! Barbara Brust, Berkeley City Councilmember Cheryl Davila and Neumann brought up concerns about the air quality at the site, which is next to Hanson Aggregates, a stone, sand and gravel supplier that donated materials to resurface the street for the project.
Councilmember Sophie Hahn and Arreguín noted that, after a month of outreach and invitations to the center, West Berkeley encampments may be asked to move for health and safety reasons.
“My concern is that the city will take this as an opportunity and a justification … for the city to close down encampments where people have collected and formed curbside communities,” Neumann said.