City of Berkeley launches program providing storage lockers for homeless individuals

Kavya Narendra-Babu/File

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The city of Berkeley launched its one-year secure storage pilot program Monday, providing 58 lockers for homeless individuals.

The program provides lockers with 9 cubic feet of storage space that are accessible on a first-come, first-served basis. Located in the Berkeley Veterans Memorial Building at 1931 Center St., the lockers are open for several hours a day, seven days a week.

The program, managed by the nonprofit Building Opportunities for Self- Sufficiency, or BOSS, was first proposed in Mayor Jesse Arreguín’s budget in December 2017. Berkeley City Council approved a contract with BOSS on July 24 and agreed to allocate $50,000 to fund the program.

“The Secure Storage Program will bring much needed relief to those who are literally being weighed down by their belongings,” Arreguín said in a press release. “This will enable them to access shelters, services, and employment opportunities without the burden of dragging their belongings 24/7.”

Robert Barrer, director of housing programs at BOSS, said five people have been using the lockers so far, adding that it takes some time to get the word out about the lockers. He said he “can’t understate” how important the lockers are to homeless individuals.

The council funded a similar locker program more than a decade ago, providing 96 storage lockers in the same building.

“(The lockers) were shut down, just sitting there,” Barrer said. “We are pleased we have the opportunity to provide the service to the folks again.”

Homeless advocate Mike Lee said 58 lockers are not enough for about 1,000 homeless people in Berkeley, and the new lockers were a way the city justified enacting the ordinance regulating sidewalks.

The ordinance passed in City Council on Tuesday and regulates the presence of certain objects on sidewalks, which Lee said will particularly affect the property of homeless individuals.

But Arreguín said the city hopes to “respect the rights of the homeless” while ensuring public access to the city’s sidewalks. He said the council is looking to expand the storage program throughout the city of Berkeley.

Mike Zint, co-founder of the homeless advocacy group First They Came for the Homeless, said that because the lockers are not open at all hours, he is concerned about how users will access their belongings when the lockers are closed.

After the one-year pilot program ends, City Council will evaluate whether the program is working and if it wants to support continued funding, according to city spokesperson Matthai Chakko.

“Storage is one of the very first needs for those living unsheltered,” said Paul Kealoha-Blake, chair of the city Homeless Commission, in an email. “The impact on human dignity is felt each time personal objects and possessions are confiscated and removed…  often with no clear avenue to recovery.”

Contact Sarah Chung at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sarahchungdc.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article’s photo credit misspelled Kavya Narendra-Babu’s name.