On Wednesday, the Berkeley Homeless Commission discussed sanitation, hygiene and clean water access for homeless community members in response to an assessment contracted by the city.
Presented by Megan Prier, project manager for West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, the Berkeley Water, Access, Sanitation and Hygiene assessment, or WASH, maps where unhoused people in Berkeley reside and where 311 calls are made for open defecation and urination. From this collection of information, the city is able to estimate where public bathrooms are most necessary, according to Prier. The assessment also cites the need for laundry, shower, hand-washing and toiletry access.
“We’ve been contracted by the city to look at existing restrooms, and we’re taking a comprehensive full sanitation look, which is access to showers and laundry,” Prier said.
Prier listed some ways the city could increase access to sanitation. Some ideas include adding more signs to existing bathrooms, upgrading and maintaining existing facilities and partnering with businesses that already have public bathrooms. Prier added that facilities such as the YMCA could open up avenues to form partnerships.
The presentation addressed specific concerns about restroom accessibility for the homeless population based on information gathered from unhoused people themselves and homeless advocacy groups.
Prier said these facilities should have 24-hour access and provide safe nighttime environments with adequate lighting. She added that they should be within an eighth of a mile from needed areas.
Members of the commission commented on the assessment and voiced additional concerns and questions. Commissioner Mary Behm-Steinberg stressed that long distances may make restrooms inaccessible for disabled unhoused populations and Commissioner Aidan Hill questioned whether clean drinking water would be accessible along with other sanitation needs.
According to the project timeline, a final proposal for the project will be completed in December after receiving feedback from the community this month.
“Our job is what would it take to provide sanitation for everyone,” Prier said. “It is fundamentally a basic human right.”
The commission was also updated on the status of other resources, such as RV lots and vouchers.
Outreach is ongoing for potential RV dwellers, said Berkeley community services specialist Brittany Carnegie. A parking lot has been proposed to open by the end of this month on Second Street and University Avenue.
“We have space for 15 to 25 people,” Carnegie said at the meeting. “34 completed questionnaires.”
The commission is applying for 15% more non-elderly disabled, or NED, vouchers than last year, which will help the NED population. It will also apply for Shelter Plus Care vouchers, which are designed to help those who are homeless and recovering from substance misuse, HIV positive or struggling with other health issues.
Three letters were voted to be sent to the Berkeley City Council at the conclusion of the meeting: an update about the Berkeley Youth Commission, a suggestion for an administrative hearing commission and a statement defending the commission’s right to operate independently from City Council.
Contact Devaki Dikshit at [email protected] and follow them on Twitter at @DevakiDevay