By Doug Oakley
Berkeley's only homeless shelter for young adults is at a funding crossroads and is asking the public for donations.
The 30-bed shelter, called Youth Engagement Advocacy and Housing had one of its three contracts with the city of Berkeley cut in half. A city report noted that a program contract to do outreach to those on the street "did not have a significant impact on transitioning youth to greater stability" and the contract was reduced "to reflect the reduced caseload and varied level of services being provided."
The shelter then declined the remainder of the $100,000 contract because it couldn't live up to the city's expectations for the number of people it could then serve with half the money, said director Sharon Hawkins Leyden.
At the same time, the shelter, which also does case management for mentally ill homeless youth, will reduce the number of beds from 30 to 20 or 15. Even though it will lower the number of beds on any given night, the move will allow it to be open year round, instead of just during the rainy months which it has been the case for the last nine years.
"Ultimately we probably will end up serving more youth per year but we'll also have to turn more people away," Hawkins Leyden said.
The shelter is having a fundraiser at Pizzaiolo in Oakland Oct. 9 with dinner, a silent auction and guest speaker John Scharffenberger of Scharffenberger Chocolate. The shelter hopes to raise $30,000.
Hawkins Leyden said the shelter still has two contracts with the city for about $240,000.
Berkeley Assistant City Manager Jim Hynes said cutting one of three contracts with the shelter was not easy.
"The bottom line is we have to be really wise here," Hynes said. "We have diminished revenues and we have layoffs of city employees, really serious stuff. When contracts don't perform, we have to act fiscally responsible."
Hynes said the contract was cut because "they weren't serving the numbers we expected."
Hawkins Leyden said the city simply needed to balance its budget.
"We served more kids than we said we would, and we never had a contract with the city that said by giving us this money there will be no more youth on the street," Hawkins Leyden said.
Hawkins Leyden estimates Berkeley's homeless population is about 1,200 and about 225 homeless youth age 18 to 25. The average age they become homeless is 15, she said. Of that group, 73 percent are drug or alcohol users, 36 percent have mental health problems, 50 percent have not graduated from high school and 79 percent have no money.
Hawkins Leyden said with the restructuring, the shelter is "going back to our core mission of shelter," instead of trying to do more case management of kids to get them stable.
"We've been trying to go year round for nine years and now we're really going to do it," Hawkins Leyden said.
"Our board is committed, our staff is committed and we're going to do it."
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley