Public Comment

Housing the Homeless

Marcia Poole
Sunday September 02, 2018 - 02:01:00 PM

UPDATE: This morning, at 7 am, displaced homeless from the shelter, FTCFTH, and supporters took city hall. The reason is obvious. 90 out of the old, 60 into the new. The other 30?

The city had plenty of time to make sure no one was displaced. They did not care enough to. These homeless are all disabled. They are seniors. And the city again, did not care about the most vulnerable.

Recently, at a town hall meeting hosted by Berkeley’s Mayor Jesse Arreguin and Vice Mayor Cheryl Davila, the public was asked to think about ways we could house the residents of the soon to be closed Berkeley Emergency Storm Shelter at 9th and University. A number of good possibilities, short and long- term were offered. I would like to lend my support to several of them.

I request that the Mayor’s office to do whatever is necessary to extend the operation of the shelter at its current location. Declare a state of emergency and request the County of Alameda and State of California governments extend the 180 days to whatever time is necessary. Comply with any and all repairs needed. In addition, build several bathrooms on site, add showers and washing machines. The Dorothy Day House does a spectacular job of making this place a well-run center and we should see that the City does everything it can to continue the operation of this good shelter they have created. 

Open the West Berkeley Senior Center to being a full-time shelter for several years. Have the Dorothy Day House extend their management to this center as well. Open the parking lot to rv dwellers. 

If safe, open the men’s shelter in the Veterans Building on Center Street and Old City Hall, downstairs, to create two more temporary shelters. Again, the Dorothy Day House should manage them. 

Start looking at residential/commercial properties and negotiate with the building owners about repairing and improving the structures. Pay for and help with special expedited zoning permits. Leases of the structures to the City for at least 20 years should be obtained if the cost of repair is very large. Apartments that are included in the structures should all be made code compliant and rented as very low income apartments under rent control. The rent control status must stay with the apartments, even if the building is sold after the leasing has expired. 

I live in a building that extends east/west for l block. The building has 8 apartments on the top (second) floor, 2 (possibly 3, according to City records) on the main floor and a huge cavernous open space that two business once occupied 12 years ago (Half Price Books and the Blue Nile Restaurant.) The building’s address is 2510 Telegraph Avenue on the west side and 2512-16 Regent St. on the east side. Of the 11 rent-controlled apartments, only 4 have been occupied in the last 12 years, with one of these having become unoccupied for the last 3 or 4 years due to the death of the occupant. The unoccupied apartments were gutted to the joists 10 years ago and no work was done on them since then.  

The downstairs commercial areas were also gutted around 10 years ago, with walls and structural supports removed to create one massive space. The landlord stopped working on the building when he encountered structural problems and had to sue the apartment house to the south for leaning on his property. A thorough analysis on the structural soundness of the total property was done 10 years ago. The building was found to be stable, with some reinforcement needed on the south wall. I propose that the City of Berkeley contact the owner, Ali Eslami, at 510.774.8387 or 510.644.2922 to confer with him on this property. 

I envision a large shelter on the main floor (street level) that would accommodate senior and disabled clients, along with their animals and partners, in addition to several small offices, a communal room and a kitchen. There are several bathrooms already there, so the plumbing is in and could be extended. A large commercial kitchen had been located there. The configuration of the rest of the space could be for rooms for the people recovering from illnesses or surgery and larger spaces for those not incapacitated. Staff could be provided by the Dorothy Day House. 

Funding for this Senior/Disabled shelter could be requested from Kaiser, which has established a funding unit just for these helpful places. Also, UC could be requested to contribute funds to it and perhaps an office for public health might be established there with doctors and nurses on duty. Perhaps LifeLong Medical Center would like to participate. 

The function of this space, though, is to give the senior and disabled homeless community in Berkeley a safe and supportive place to be at 24/7. Of course, the owner would be helped financially with grants and funding, tax incentives and special provisions to establish this needed center for those in need in Berkeley. The surrounding neighborhood would be benefited by a stable, humanitarian place that was dedicated to helping some of the most vulnerable in our population. 

You are faced with a humanitarian crisis that will continue for many years to come. I wish you all the best and thank you for the help you have already given and your willingness to expand the services you offer.