Berkeley youth shelters may close, to be discussed at City Council meeting

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The city of Berkeley’s only two programs offering shelter for transition-aged youth are at risk for closure by the end of 2019, a topic that is scheduled to be discussed and potentially remedied at the Berkeley City Council meeting Tuesday.

The Fred Finch Youth Center, or FFYC, has operated a transitional housing program for youth aged 18-25 in Berkeley called Turning Point for 16 years, according to a City Council report. The FFYC contacted Berkeley’s Health, Housing and Community Services Department, or HHCS, in June to report that the program was “no longer consistent with their mission nor financially viable to them.” In order to prevent the program from closing, the FFYC intends to sell its property at 3404 King Street to Covenant House California, a nonprofit for homeless youth, according to the report. 

City Council will be voting on a resolution for the allowance of the property to operate as a shelter for homeless youth, as it is currently not zoned for such use. 

“I’m definitely in support of a group of people receiving a permit that intend on helping the youth that are on the streets,” said local homelessness advocate Mike Zint. “It’s one step of many hundreds of steps that need to be taken. … a lot more needs to be done.”

Zint added that many of the youth in shelters have aged out of the foster care system and may not be prepared to live on their own. According to a report from the city manager, Berkeley’s unsheltered homeless population has increased by 22 percent from 2017-19. In light of this statistic, HHCS staff have labeled the situation as “urgent” and recommend waiving the restrictions of the zoning district.  

Covenant House’s Youth Engagement Advocacy Housing, or YEAH!, program is currently located in Lutheran Church of the Cross at 1744 University Avenue, where it operates its 30-bed shelter, according to the report. Because this tenancy has become “increasingly unviable,” the organization has searched, unsuccessfully, for an alternative location since 2018, the report detailed. Covenant House informed HHCS that without a suitable location, it will likely discontinue the shelter. 

Covenant House plans to continue operating the 12-bed transition point program only if the property on King Street also receives a permit to operate as the new location for the YEAH! program, as acquiring the property is otherwise financially unfeasible, according to the report. 

“The Mayor is supportive of expanding homeless services and increasing shelters,” said Stefan Elgstrand, spokesperson for the Berkeley mayor’s office, in an email. “There is a clear need for more shelters, and ultimately permanent housing.”

In order to bypass the restrictions of the zoning district, City Council would have to invoke the shelter crisis resolution, which stipulates that no permit is required for the temporary establishment of homeless shelters if they are to prevent or delay the effects of the shelter crisis, according to the report. 

“I’m going to say that anybody worth anything is going to support this,” Zint said. “If they’re successful in removing, in my opinion, one person from homelessness, they’re successful.”

Contact Emily Hom at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @hom_emily.