Public Comment

Commentary: Budget Cuts for Food and Housing Project

By Terrie Light
Tuesday December 18, 2007

Last month I watched as boxes and bags of food came into Berkeley Food and Housing Project generously donated by our supporters. I watched as those items went out as quickly as they came in as they left with our graduates who have moved into housing, but are still forced to manage their lives on the edge economically. 

We are deeply appreciative of this community. A community that understands many thoughtful actions does make a difference in the lives of people so poor, that a daily free meal at Berkeley Food and Housing Project will mean having enough money to pay the rent—as opposed to being homeless again. We are relieved when we receive donations of new or clean coats and blankets every winter so that people do not freeze on our streets. We are grateful that we are able to help the women and children who move out of our shelter with the kitchen and furniture basics to start up a new household and life. We have experience creating solutions in the myriad and tragic lives of our clients: These solutions are life-changing and transformative. 

We were in shock when we received funding cuts in the summer of 2007. We did not really believe that Berkeley could hack away at such vital services as food for the poor and homeless. At first, in a spirit of cooperation we tried to make due and manage as we always do with what little we have. As do most non-profit agencies, we struggle on too little money, tighten already tight belts and work longer and harder to accommodate policy decisions made without input from real live clients—or even from the programs that serve the community as a whole. We are determined to advocate for our clients and the vital services that they need. To fight these and all future cuts which will have the unintended consequence of unraveling the already threadbare “safety net” of services?  

In 2010 Berkeley Food and Housing Project will be celebrating 40 years of providing essential community services on a shoe string budget; a miracle of under-funded yet comprehensive and model programs for homeless men, women and children. Thus we know from experience that emergency services are both vital and effective—both in the short and long term—to support permanent housing efforts, and to improve the quality of life in our community. 

And where are we headed in the future? The country as a whole may experience a recession, as the dollar is devalued, houses foreclose weekly, and a family in the Bay Area needs $70,000 a year just for the basics of food, healthcare, clothing and shelter. We all need to stand up to protect what little services there are for those making $12,000 and less! We thank you, the community, for standing up to support the reinstatement of funds for our Quarter Meal. We had an amazing turn out at City Council which resulted in a partial funding reinstatement for this year. But the battle continues. What about the rest of the funds? What about the funds for all food and emergency services for next year and beyond? 

Time for a change: 2008 is an election year and you can vote in more ways than one. As a community we need to draw the line at cutting food and shelter; the absolute basics for human survival. We also need to raise our voices on behalf of the people on our streets who suffer from multiple disabilities and have difficulty being heard—they are further isolated because of their illness and lack of housing. 

We at BFHP need your help in three specific ways:  

1. Please send a donation to continue our vital work.  

2. Write letters, make phone calls and visit your local elected officials asking them to reinstate the rest of the funding for the Quarter Meal, and demand that they protect all emergency food and shelter programs in the future. As of today, both our food and shelter programs are in danger of being permanently reduced and then eliminated.  

3. If we are to provide the level of service our most chronically homeless clients require, demand that your elected officials increase our funding so that we can expand our services to the poor and hungry. 


Terrie Light is executive director of the Berkeley Food and Housing Project. She can be contacted at or 649-4965 x307. Donations can be made online at, or sent to BFHP, 2140 Dwight Way, Berkeley CA., 94704.