City Council looks for winter homeless shelter as activists express frustration

Originally published on November 3, 2016 for The Daily Californian

At Tuesday’s regular Berkeley City Council meeting, the Ad Hoc Committee on Possible Locations for a Sanctioned Encampment presented updates in its findings, inciting exasperation among homeless activists and citizens in the crowd.

Last month, the city’s winter shelter was destroyed after a fire at Berkeley’s First Congregational Church. The committee, composed of Council members Laurie Capitelli, Jesse Arreguin, Linda Maio and Darryl Moore, proposed finding a new indoor winter shelter paired with other warming sites.

“We propose that we take immediate actions within a matter of days,” Maio said at the meeting. “Our guiding principle in carrying out these actions is that people have places to go that are indoors and out of the elements during inclement weather.”

In a review of his department’s goals to address homelessness in Berkeley, Director of Health, Housing and Community Services Paul Buddenhagen said his first priority is replacing the winter shelter. Buddenhagen added that the city is currently spending $17.6 million on services for homeless individuals.

“We’re scrambling to find winter shelter,” Buddenhagen said at the meeting. “We’re very confident that we’ll find the winter shelter within the next two weeks.”

But many speakers, homeless and housed, asked for a legally sanctioned outdoor encampment to live in while the city finds an indoor facility.

Prior to the meeting, committee members met with 15 to 20 people living at a homeless encampment at Adeline and Fairview streets and their supporters, who suggested using the far south end of Aquatic Park as an outdoor encampment. They told the committee members that this encampment would be “an intentional self-governing community” that would begin with about 20 people and could expand to 200.

The Ad Hoc Committee, however, said in its report that it did not recommend Aquatic Park for several reasons, including its remote location and possible challenges to maintaining a smaller population.

“Aquatic Park is not the only place where you can potentially allow people to camp,” said activist Adam Bredenberg who has been voluntarily living with the homeless community in protest of encampment raids. “They rejected it without considering other places.”

Berkeley mayoral candidate and homeless community member Guy “Mike” Lee expressed frustration that the committee members didn’t visit the encampment themselves for the meetings. He added that a legal outdoor encampment would be an immediate solution.

“We’re not going to be waiting and watching our brothers and sisters die in the street while you decide that you’re going to try to find us an indoor storefront,” Lee said during public comment.

Arreguin and Moore said an outdoor encampment is a short-term response and suggested looking toward more transitional solutions.

“Berkeley is very landlocked, we don’t have much land,” Moore said. “So if we can find an indoor facility, like the Navigation Center in San Francisco, that’s one alternative.”

The meeting adjourned with an agreement to reassess the state of Berkeley’s homelessness in January and to find a winter shelter as soon as possible.

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