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Homeless voucher program OK’d

John GeluardiDaily Planet Staff
Thursday November 16, 2000

Berkeley’s homeless population will get some protection from the early cold snap: a temporary winter shelter opened in Oakland Wednesday and, thanks to a voucher program the City Council approved Tuesday, hotel space will be available for the most vulnerable. 

Prompted by night time temperatures that plunged to the mid- and low 30s this week, Mayor Shirley Dean put an emergency item on Tuesday’s City Council Agenda to provide $35,000 for hotel rooms for the city’s homeless who have children or who are physically or mentally too frail to stay at the city’s temporary winter shelter at the Oakland Army Base. The council unanimously approved the measure. 

“We don’t want to see people huddling from the cold on the street or in doorways,” Dean said. 

Theresa Traynor, community service specialist for Berkeley’s Health and Human Services Department, said the city has worked out an agreement with the YMCA and the Flamingo Hotel to provide rooms for those who qualify for the program. 

The YMCA on Allston Way will have two to 15 beds available for some homeless until April 30, by which time city officials estimate 447 of the most vulnerable people will have had access to the hotel.  

Parents with children will be given vouchers for the Flamingo Hotel on University Avenue, which will provide several double occupancy rooms over the course of the winter. The hotel will house an estimated 700 to 1200 parents and children by April 30. 

City officials estimate the rooms at the YMCA will cost approximately $17,000 and rooms at the Flamingo are expected to cost $15,000 over the next five and one-half months. The remaining $3,000 will be retained for administration costs and for damages to the hotels. 

“It’s really wonderful to have the YMCA and the Flamingo work with us again,” said Traynor. This is the third year the YMCA has participated in the program and the second year for the Flamingo. 

Disabled or ill homeless can apply for the hotel voucher program at the Berkeley Emergency Food and Housing Program, 649-4976. Parents with children can call the Women’s Daytime Drop In at 549-4392. 


The Temporary Winter Shelter 

For the second year in a row, Berkeley is working with Oakland and Alameda County to provide temporary shelter at the Oakland Army Base. The shelter has 100 beds available in a former bowling alley. There are 50 beds for homeless from Oakland and 50 beds for those who will be shuttled from three drop-in locations around Berkeley. The shelter opened Wednesday and will remain open until April 30. 

The shuttle makes two pick ups each day at 3:30 p.m. and 5:15 p.m. from the three locations including The Veterans Building at 1931 Center St. and the Trinity Church at 2362 Bancroft Way. Each morning the shuttle will return those who use the winter shelter to the University Lutheran Chapel on College Avenue where they will be served breakfast. 

The shelter is managed by Operation Dignity, a non-profit organization run by Alex McElree, a Viet Nam Veteran who was formerly homeless.  

“We’re all about saving lives here,” McElree said near the entrance of the shelter as the first Social Service Transport buses arrived from Oakland. “It’ll take a couple of days to get all the glitches out but everything will be fine.” 

Last year the shelter had an unusually high number of female clients who are generally unwilling to stay in shelters for safety reasons. The women’s sleeping quarters are separated from the men’s by a partition.  

“We’re not sure why were get so many women clients,” McElree said. “We have 35 beds reserved for women and they were full the entire time last year.” 

McElree said one reason might be that his organization prioritizes stopping problems before they start. “If people feel safe and secure and have something to eat they’re more likely to make better decisions.” 

Upon arriving, clients receive a hygiene kit, towel and blanket. There are portable showers available in the parking lot and a meals are served each night. There is a staff of five who are at the site during the early evening and through the night. 

McElree said the project is funded by the Berkeley, Oakland and Alameda County. He added that about 20 percent of funding comes private donations.  

Those interested in donating or volunteering to Operation Dignity can get more information at 287-8465.