News of a 75 percent price hike at Shattuck Avenue Self-Storage has prompted Berkeley leaders to question a 10-year-old, city-funded program that pays for storage lockers for the community’s homeless.
Rain jackets, newspapers and blankets are often stashed in shopping carts and makeshift lean-tos in other cities, but in Berkeley, 99 lockers provide its homeless with free storage space. Until now the city rented the units for less than $25,000 a year. The cost, though, has swollen to above $40,000.
“When I found this out, I was alarmed at how much it was,” said City Councilmember Linda Maio.
While Maio notes that the uncommon program offers a vital city service, she wants to be sure the city is getting the most for its money. Colleagues on the council joined her last month in a unanimous agreement to pay the higher locker fees. But, at the same time, the council directed city staff to reevaluate the program.
“I’ve learned that the whole storage thing has not been properly handled,” said Maio.
City officials concede that in the past this was true.
Until about a year ago, at the storage lot on the corners of Shattuck and Ward Street, little was known about the people using city lockers or if the storage accounts were even active, according to Harvey Tureck, the city’s manager of Mental Health Services. But this has changed, he said.
“We’re trying to bring more order to the process,” Tureck explained. “We’ve had to access all of the lockers and the people and evaluate their current needs.”
The city’s 99 lockers, at 5 feet by 5 feet by four feet, now serve homeless who genuinely need storage space, Tureck said.
“If you’re someone trying to get back on your feet and get a job, you’re going to have stuff and need a place to put it,” he said. “We’re certainly more careful now [about who uses the lockers].”
Tureck and his staff are slated to update City Council on the status of the locker program at a July 23 meeting.
As for the program’s 75 percent cost hike, city officials say the increase was a long-time coming and that rates charged by Shattuck Avenue Self-Storage are still below market.
The locker program dates back to 1993 and, in addition to serving the homeless community, has been credited with improving the aesthetics of parks and other public spaces where homeless have historically left their belongings.
“It has benefited the clients and the community,” said Eric Landes-Brenman, the city’s homeless coordinator who helped found the locker program.
The program has helped people make the transition from the street to permanent housing, he said.
The only apparent problem has been a recent complaint from neighbors of the storage who say they have had trouble with some of the locker users.
The manager of Shattuck Avenue Self-Storage was not available for comment yesterday.
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