24-hour Berkeley homeless shelter continues service upgrades

Photo of the shelter on Grayson Street
Chris Santiago/Courtesy
An array of tents are set up in the interior of Horizon Transitional Village on Grayson Street. Opened July 1, the shelter provides residents with open floor space and privacy, as well as access to medical clinics, workplace development programs, community gardens and sports facilities.

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Since its July 1 opening, Horizon Transitional Village, the first 24-hour homeless shelter in Berkeley, has continued updating its services, while meeting some criticism from community members.

The shelter, created through a partnership between the Doris Day House, Rebuilding Together East Bay-North and the city of Berkeley, is able to house about 50 people at a time. It is intended to serve as an emergency shelter, and it will be torn down in September 2022.

“It’s kind of a mishmash or combination of those two types of programs, where it has some elements of a traditional shelter but also a great many elements of an outdoor encampment,” said Sgt. Darrin Rafferty, the project manager for the city. “It’s a bit of a hybrid program, a bit of a proving ground, a test program to see how it works out.”

Horizon Transitional Village provides residents with an open floor space subdivided into 10-by-10 foot plots on which to set up tents. Residents are given some degree of privacy by reconverted cubicle walls, according to John-William Frye, the executive director of Rebuilding Together East Bay-North, and they have access to lockers and more storage space.

Alongside the physical infrastructure, Frye added, they also have access to medical clinics, workplace development programs, community gardens and sports facilities.

However, some argue that the project failed to live up to expectations.

“I saw images of the space and it wasn’t exactly what (the city) had told us,” said Ian Cordova Morales, the president and lead advocate of Where Do We Go Berkeley?, an advocacy and material support organization that has acted as a liaison between homeless encampment residents and the city government. “It’s been a slow-boiling disappointment.”

The shelter has both privacy and safety issues, Morales alleged, and Berkeley Needle Exchange Emergency Distribution, a volunteer-based drug harm reduction organization, has not been involved in the shelter’s harm reduction program. Residents cannot access storage for their carts, he added, which are a major source of income for Berkeley’s homeless people.

Additionally, spaces have been reserved for residents of the Seabreeze encampment, which has been subject to sweeps by city authorities. Several of these reserved spaces have gone unfilled, Morales said.

A serious concern for homeless rights advocate and former mayoral candidate Aidan Hill is that the 50-resident shelter fails to adequately address the scope of homelessness in Berkeley. According to city data, more than 1,000 people sleep on the Berkeley streets every night.

However, Frye emphasized the changing and improving nature of the shelter.

“I think that it wasn’t until we started to lock in the amenities towards the second or third week in July that it made more sense for people to come in,” Frye said. “Especially the first two weeks, we kind of had to use a lot of imagination.”

Contact David Villani at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @DavidVillani7.