Depriving the youth of a chance to escape the poverty cycle is egregiously backward. And that’s precisely what the closing of both of Berkeley’s youth centers would do if the City Council doesn’t take the necessary measures to preserve and expand these spaces.
The YEAH! Shelter, a 30-bed youth shelter and nonprofit, is set to close its doors by the end of the year if it cannot find an alternative location by then; the Fred Finch Youth Center, which offers 12 beds, could shut down by December. The predominant rationale for delaying a solution? King Street residents, who currently live near the Fred Finch Youth Center, have cited high local crime rates.
Budget cuts, while unfortunate, are generally valid reasons to refrain from expanding a housing assistance program. Irrational hesitation about zoning the space for a youth shelter, however, is not.
Money isn’t the main issue here. At the City Council meeting, several King Street residents cited increased crime statistics as an argument against overriding local zoning for a 30-bed shelter. First and foremost, it’s unfair to conflate this issue with rising crime rates on a certain street. Addressing high crime rates is an important conversation to have, but not as an argument against providing homeless youth with extra resources.
Many of the affected youth are too old to be put in the foster care system and too young to live on their own as full-fledged adults. If anything, investing in transitional shelters for homeless youth is tantamount to ensuring that they won’t reenter the cycle of poverty as adults. Preventing youth from getting sucked back into the cycle is a far more proactive way of addressing the homeless crisis. What’s more, a lot of community-based organizations in this area don’t offer homeless assistance programs specifically targeted toward youth. Berkeley’s unique in that it currently provides not one but two facilities for homeless youth; it would be a shame to stall the expansion of these sorts of facilities purely because certain residents are upset.
The city constantly churns out rhetoric about alleviating its homeless crisis. So, why wouldn’t City Council invoke the shelter crisis ordinance, which would allow the YEAH! Shelter to override local zoning? This shouldn’t be up for debate. Thirty beds might not seem like a lot in the context of recent point-in-time numbers, but this would allow 30 kids to have the chance to escape the cycle of poverty.
It’s disappointing that the city is gambling with the lives of youth who are homeless. Time is running out for the shelters — homeless youth deserve a guaranteed, secure space to successfully transition into a stable future.
Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the fall 2019 opinion editor, Revati Thatte.