Berkeley City Council votes to establish outdoor emergency shelter

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Berkeley City Council voted to establish an outdoor emergency shelter in response to the declaration of a shelter emergency in the city of Berkeley, the potential deaths of several unhoused people and hygiene concerns for the community.

The shelters will be composed of climate-controlled, sturdy tents and will likely be elevated from the ground. Shelters will provide handwashing facilities, showers and other sanitation services, and will operate with a solar-powered system. The shelters will also be supervised and managed by an agency.

People will be selected according to city manager protocol to stay in the emergency shelters based on shelter selection criteria. The tents, however, are intended as temporary housing and occupants are encouraged to stay no longer than 180 days.

“Placement in an indoor navigation center or permanent housing are more appropriate mid- and long-term options,” according to the City Council agenda item.

Several locations have been suggested for the emergency outdoor shelters, including 611 to 639 on University Avenue, a largely unused lot under the bridge and adjacent to the already existing encampment beside the Interstate 80 freeway. The area south of pathways on Cedar Street is also being considered.

People’s Park Committee member Lisa Teague said an outdoor shelter is a more viable option for unhoused people who often can’t occupy traditional shelters, which generally cannot accommodate adequate belongings and companion animals.

Berkeley Homeless Commissioner Aidan Hill was concerned over the need for supervision, which they believe may prolong the building process and increase expenses.

“I would say the outdoor emergency shelter right now doesn’t have dialogue and trust as primary components to it,” Hill said. “It assumes that the government is really going to solve the solution for people. … The reality is unhoused people are completely resilient and self-reliable.”

The emergency outdoor shelter will work in tandem with the 1000 Person Plan, which aims to permanently end homelessness in Berkeley.

Contact Devaki Dikshit at [email protected] and follow them on Twitter at @DevakiDevay.