Berkeley, Oakland Scramble to Find Beds for Homeless in Cold Weather
By Doug Oakley Staff Writer Bay Area News Group firstname.lastname@example.org
BERKELEY -- As the cold and rainy season approaches, Oakland and Berkeley officials are scrambling to increase homeless shelter capacity in their cities for up to 100 individuals after a jointly run facility at the former Oakland Army Base was permanently closed in the spring.
For Oakland, that means bringing up to 50 homeless individuals to a shelter downtown starting this week. In Berkeley, another 28 will be housed in existing shelters wherever they can find space to put a cot, officials said.
The Oakland Army Base shelter, run by the two cities for 12 years in an industrial area of West Oakland far from any residential or business areas, was torn down, and the area is slated for redevelopment.
Jane Micallef, director of Berkeley's Health Housing and Community Services Department, said staff from the two cities tried but could not find a good alternative shelter for the winter months.
"The challenge with a winter shelter is if you are looking for a place that is seasonal that you can leave set up, it's very difficult to find," Micallef said. "We were very committed to continuing the partnership with Oakland, but we just ran out of time."
Although the shelter at the former base was a good place to get people out of the cold during the winter, it was not that easy to get people there. Berkeley spent $42,000 a year on BART tickets for people to ride to West Oakland where they would board a shuttle to the Army Base. On the same bus were Oakland's homeless, coming from the downtown area each day.
In Oakland, individuals needing shelter during the winter who would normally go to the Army Base will be referred to the Henry Robinson Multi Service Center at 559 16th St., said Susan Shelton, manager of community housing services, during a subcommittee meeting of the Oakland City Council last week.
In addition to offering emergency winter shelter to 50 single adults in the basement at that site, also known as Hotel Touraine, it will house at least another 100 upstairs who will get case management services so they can find permanent housing, said Lucy Kasdin, housing director for Bay Area Community Services, which is now running the shelter.
Athena Juarez, 34, who has been living in her car for the past year, said she is happy the shelter is now taking single adults. Until now, the building was used solely for homeless families, but most of them have made it to permanent housing.
"I'm so glad a place like this has opened up," Juarez said. "There are other shelters, but they only give you 90 days, then you're back in your car. If this place didn't take single adults, I would be on the curb somewhere."
During the City Council meeting, Shelton acknowledged that the change from families to single adults at Hotel Touraine will bring more homeless into downtown Oakland this winter.
"We hope to track that to see if anything different is happening downtown," Shelton told council members. "And we will be vigilant."
Shelton said that Oakland has $171,000 to spend at the site's emergency shelter in the basement this winter and that it will close when the money runs out.
"We want to run it from mid-November until April, but if our resources run out, we'll close before," she said.
In Berkeley, the city is rerouting $103,000 from the Oakland Army Base shelter to increase capacity at three existing agencies: 18 more beds at the Berkeley Food and Housing Project men's and women's shelters, about five new beds at a shelter run by Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency on Harrison Street and five more at the Dorothy Day House in the First Congregational Church on Channing Way.
"It's going to be tight for sure in both of our shelters," said Lara Tannenbaum, director of client services for the Berkeley Food and Housing Project. "And we're going to need donations of sheets, blankets, towels, pajamas and sweatpants, because we don't have money for those things."
Michael Nelson, program manager for Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency, said his shelter will add beds in hallways, classrooms and anywhere they can fit them.
Contact DougOakley at 925-234-1699. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/douglasoakley