Berkeley shelters work to support the unhoused despite capacity restrictions

photo of the Dorothy Day House
Charlene Wang/Staff
With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing a limit on capacity in housing shelters, the city of Berkeley continues to find solutions and alternatives in supporting unhoused individuals as winter approaches.

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As temperatures begin to drop and winter inches closer, the city of Berkeley’s housing shelters are once again challenged with providing sanctuary for the unhoused community amid ongoing capacity restrictions due to the pandemic.

Public health orders in the city mandated capacity restrictions in shelters at the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, which effectively cut the number of year-round shelter beds in half, said Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín in an email.

While there continues to be reduced bed space capacity in individual facilities, Arreguín said this is “offset” by the opening of new shelters and programs that seek to provide housing to Berkeley’s unhoused community, which are supported by the city’s robust funding and resources.

“Our shelters and community agencies that operate them have stepped up to face the immense challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Arreguín said in an email. “A Housing First policy remains key.”

Among the new city shelters that recently opened is the Horizon Transitional Village operated by Dorothy Day House in Southwest Berkeley, which can accommodate up to 50 people at a time and provide a variety of services, according to a city press release.

The Safe RV Parking Program, which opened last month on a lot adjacent to the Horizon Transitional Village, also provides 40 vehicle spaces where individuals can receive food and services without worrying about getting towed or receiving parking tickets, according to Robbi Montoya, executive director of the Dorothy Day House.

Montoya added that the city has been partnering with other agencies to move vulnerable individuals, such as those 65 and older, into hotel rooms.

“I wish I could say that the city is eradicating the problem; in terms of what they are doing I absolutely wholeheartedly feel they are doing the best they can,” Montoya said. “You have all these different subsets of homelessness — how do you address them, there’s not a cheat sheet.”

Arreguín noted that the shelters and programs are largely funded by the American Rescue Plan, which has provided $66.6 million in funding to address the unhoused and housing stabilization. Measure P, a bill passed in 2018 that allocates increased tax revenues to city municipal services, also provides roughly $6 to eight million dollars in funding every year for houselessness.

He added that the city’s services for the unhoused are mostly provided through contracts with community organizations, which have been given $10.7 million through the 2022 fiscal year to operate.

Despite the city’s efforts, Andy Kelley, chief of staff for city Councilmember Sophie Hahn, noted the need to find long-term solutions for the unhoused community in Berkeley.

“Getting our homeless residents connected with supportive services is crucial, but we also need to be building more long term supportive housing,” said Kelley in an email.

Contact Matt Brown and Alexander Wohl at [email protected].