Campus, city unveil plan to house People’s Park residents, provide basic needs

Photo of People's Park
Jonathan Hale/Staff
Concerns over the development of People's Park arose after campus administration and the city of Berkeley announced joint plans to temporarily house residents of the park.

Related Posts

Campus administration announced a collaborative effort with the city of Berkeley and local nonprofits Wednesday to temporarily house People’s Park residents at the Rodeway Inn as well as support them in a transition to permanent housing.

UC Berkeley is also collaborating with the city and the First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley to construct a daytime drop-in center, which will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday. The center — which will be located at the church — is subject to city permit review and will likely open this summer, providing essential services including meals and mental health counseling. 

“We’re proud to honor the legacy of People’s Park and better meet the needs of our community through an effort that’s deeply reflective of Berkeley’s values,” said Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín in a campus press release. “This partnership will put a roof over the heads of those living in People’s Park, instead of simply pushing them from one neighborhood to another.”

Last September, the UC Board of Regents formally approved a project to convert People’s Park into student housing. In addition to providing 1,100 beds for campus undergraduates, the structure would also include 100 units of permanent supportive housing for individuals who are unhoused and lower-income. 

UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ also vowed the campus would not start building until those residing at People’s Park received housing and a new place to congregate during the day. With the new plans in place, construction is slated to begin this summer.  

“We are grateful for and humbled by the coming together of this new alliance in support of a new People’s Park,” Christ said in the press release. “Together, we will provide a true win-win-win for our students, for unhoused members of our community, and for all of the residents of the city of Berkeley.”

“Communitarian values”: Temporary housing at the Rodeway Inn

Last year, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, along with the state legislature, approved the state of California’s Encampment Resolution Funding Program, which allocated the city $4.7 million in grant money. This money will be used to fund 42 rooms at the Rodeway Inn for one year and basic needs assistance provided by Abode Services, a local nonprofit organization. 

Campus has also agreed to chip in $2.2 million to fund the final six months of the 18-month lease. 

“UC Berkeley has a responsibility to address the crisis of homeless,” Christ said at the press conference. “This project and these partnerships allow us to meet these challenges consistent with our public mission and communitarian values.” 

Each new resident of the Rodeway Inn will be provided with a remodeled private room as well as a kitchenette and bathroom. At the inn, former People’s Park residents will also have access to linens, toiletries and laundry facilities. 

Meanwhile, Abode Services will supply meals each day, along with counseling, healthcare, assistance with transportation and housing “navigators,” who can help transition the temporary residents into permanent housing.   

While the city and campus will support 42 rooms at the inn, about 55 people reside at the park currently, according to Ari Neulight, a social worker employed by UC Berkeley to support the city’s unhoused community. 

Given there are more residents than there are rooms — and that some may prefer to live elsewhere — the city and campus are working with Alameda County to ensure alternative solutions. 

“Everyone deserves a home and this is an important step for these guests, with our support, to find their way home,” said Abode Services CEO Louis Chicoine in the release. 

Chicoine added at a press conference that they will pursue an “individualized, housing first approach” and that the inn would likely permit current People’s Park residents to bring any pets with them. 

But some, including People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group member Harvey Smith, believe the plans are not sufficiently thought out. 

“The project at Rodeway Inn is for a year and a half,” Smith said, adding that the city and campus have maintained a “moving one group here, one group there” approach to addressing houselessness.  

Additionally, while many have voiced support for the availability of the Rodeway Inn, others have expressed concerns about those who will have to leave by the end of April.

Currently, the inn is being used by Alameda County to house individuals who are particularly susceptible to COVID-19. According to the release, however, they will be provided housing assistance and vouchers. 

“Wonderful development”: The drop-in center

In addition to providing temporary housing for those currently living at People’s Park, the city and campus are working with the First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley to establish a daytime drop-in center. 

“First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley has strived to respond to the needs of the local community, leaning into its mission to love concretely even when it is risky and to serve generously,” reads a statement provided by the church’s Berkeley Campus Response Group. “As such, offering support to those who are needing shelter and care is woven into the fabric of our day-to-day operations.”  

The Village of Love, a local nonprofit organization will supply its basic needs services, including mental health counseling, meals, help with various forms of documentation, shelter referrals and housing assistance. 

To support these services, campus has provided $500,000 in grant money, while the city has allocated $250,000. 

“We are excited to partner with First Presbyterian, the university and the city to establish this much needed Daytime Drop-In Center in the Telegraph neighborhood,” said Joey Harrison, executive director of the Village of Love, in the release. “We all need a safe place to rest, where our basic needs can be met, and where we can connect with those who care for us.”

Street ambassadors at the Telegraph Business Improvement District will also assist in supporting the center’s management and staff. 

Though appreciative of the “wonderful development” and partnership between the church and local nonprofits, Smith questioned why such services were not provided sooner. 

“You’ve got a church, you’ve got a nonprofit involved,” Smith said. “But if they had all these people lined up, why didn’t they do this a year ago, or two years ago or three years ago.”

“Titanic movement”: Proponents, park advocates react 

Both city officials and campus administrators have lauded this effort as a historic collaboration between both parties as well as local stakeholders. 

“Nothing like this has ever happened before, where a university helps address a city issue like homelessness,” said City Councilmember Rigel Robinson, who described the effort as a “titanic movement,” at the press conference. “There is a humanitarian crisis happening on our streets.” 

Smith, however, recognized the need for more student housing but maintained that the park should not be developed in the first place.

He also described the need to address houselessness in Berkeley and beyond as a larger issue in need of attention, instead of maintaining an approach that allegedly seeks to “create the park but destroy the park.” 

“All of us have to ask ourselves: this is the richest country in history. We live in one of the richest areas in the richest country in history. Why do we have any homeless people?” Smith said. “We have incredible inequality.”

Mallika Seshadri is the managing editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @SeshadriMallika.