It is a week of both celebration and anxiety for homeless advocates in Berkeley.
On Thursday night, the nonprofit Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency (BOSS) will host its annual graduation ceremony — honoring 10 formerly homeless men and women who tapped BOSS’ job training and substance abuse programs this year to pull themselves out of desperation, addiction and prostitution.
But recent layoffs, a 25 percent decline in foundation grants and impending budget cuts from state and local government have tempered the celebratory mood at BOSS, which provides housing, health care and education for 3,000 homeless people in Berkeley, Oakland and Hayward each year.
“I expect the next few years to be very tough,” said executive director boona cheema.
BOSS recently cut ties to its transitional housing program for homeless teenagers on King Street, laying off all six of its workers.
Cheema said the Oakland-based Fred Finch Youth Center will take over the program. Its near closure, she said, suggests that nonprofits are already hurting, even though the next government budget cuts aren’t due until June at the earliest. “This is not something that will happen in the future,” said cheema. “In BOSS, it’s already happening.”
About 80 percent of BOSS’ $8 million annual budget comes from federal, state, county and local government, including some $1 million from the city of Berkeley.
Cheema said she expects the state to slash $400,000, the county to cut $250,000 and the city to deduct about $150,000 from the $450,000 it pays each year for a street sweeping program that employs the homeless.
Deputy City Manager Phil Kamlarz said the Department of Public Works has raised questions about the effectiveness of the street sweeper program and said the city, which faces a deficit next year, is considering cuts.
Kamlarz also said the city, which spends about $1.5 million on homeless services, may shift some of the dollars it spends on BOSS to other organizations.
But on the whole, Kamlarz said, homeless services will fare better than other programs in the city manager’s proposed budget, which will be unveiled May 13 before City Council.
Bates, who spent a night on the streets last week, has made homeless services a top priority, and others in the council’s progressive majority have also signaled their support.
“It is vital that, as we see skyrocketing numbers of people becoming homeless from the economic downturn and horrible federal policy, we try to counterbalance that on a local level,” said City Councilmember Kriss Worthington.
City Councilmember Betty Olds said homeless programs, like dozens of other services, will need to take their fair share of cuts.
Leyna Bernstein, director of consulting services for the San Francisco-based Management Center, which provides nonprofits with management advice, said organizations like BOSS, which rely heavily on government money, are particularly vulnerable during tough economic times.
Sonja Fitz, BOSS’ grants manager, said it’s been difficult to find new donors. “Our long-term funders are staying true, but we have not been able to interest anybody new,” she said.
BOSS will pull in a small amount of money during Thursday’s graduation at the Berkeley Marina Radisson Hotel, from 6 to 8 p.m. The event, which doubles as a fundraiser, is expected to draw about 250 people at $50 per head.
This year’s ceremony will focus on 10 people, including 40-year-old Sharon Barrett.
In February 2001, Barrett and her then 10-year-old daughter, Shercee, had to leave their Oakland apartment when Barrett’s landlord decided to sell the building. Unable to find housing, Barrett and Shercee spent their nights in a shelter, a car and in the home of an older man who asked Barrett for sex.
Depressed and scared, Barrett turned to drugs and alcohol before BOSS and the Bethlehem Temple in Oakland helped turn her life around.
“Between those two, they just wrapped their arms around me and loved me until I could love myself,” she said.