City of Berkeley to establish emergency homeless shelter

Josh Kahen/Staff

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At Tuesday’s weekly meeting, Berkeley City Council adopted a proposal to establish a temporary, outdoor emergency homeless shelter with 50 tents.

As a part of the proposal, the city will install climate-controlled, durable tents on raised pallets, portable toilets and showers, hand washing stations and garbage disposal, according to City Councilmember Kate Harrison. Additionally, the proposal recommends that an agency manages and oversees the emergency shelter.

“Within the next years, we want to get people into permanent housing, but within the next month we want to prevent people from dying of exposure,” Harrison said during the meeting. “This proposal is part of the continual (need) to address the crisis in our streets, and we shall not wait.”

The city’s decision to adopt the proposal comes after four homeless individuals died since the start of the new year, according to City Councilmember Cheryl Davila.

This “pilot” emergency housing initiative serves to recognize the urgency of those currently living on the streets who need “shelter, sanitation and services” and provide them with immediate resources, Harrison said during the meeting.

The area under the University Avenue overpass has been identified as “an early promising site,” but no location has been secured yet, according to Harrison. The location of the shelter will be passed by City Council prior to implementation.

“(The outdoor shelter model) must not be a long term solution, but a transitional housing path to permanent housing,” said Mayor Jesse Arreguín. “There is no question that this particular model serves a gap that we are seeing.”

This referral is part of California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s larger, statewide “shelter emergency” that seeks to use surplus government properties for temporary housing, according to Harrison.

The establishment of an emergency homeless shelter in Berkeley is still in the initial planning stages. Harrison added that further planning will be undertaken by City Council staff.

Harrison and City Councilmember Sophie Hahn discussed the community and fiscal benefits of creating organized locations for homeless people, including cleaner streets as well as reduced costs of police, medical and emergency services.

“Having a more organized location for homeless people helps our neighborhoods and businesses,” Hahn said during the meeting. “We get a constant outcry, and for good reason, about the physical conditions on our streets.”

The city Public Works Commission’s recommendations to update the city’s 2020-24 Five-Year Street Rehabilitation Plan and create a Long-Term Paving Master Plan were also approved during the meeting.

The Long-Term Paving Master Plan will provide a calculation of the funding and resources necessary to improve Berkeley’s street conditions from its current “at-risk” condition to a “good” condition, according to the Public Works Commission Recommendation for the Five-Year Paving Plan.

“We really do have to take care of our streets, they are in terrible condition,” said Berkeley resident and meeting attendee Kelly Hammargren.

Skylar Schoemig is a city government reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sschoemig_dc.