Sheltering Homeless This Winter

Thomas Lord
Tuesday November 28, 2017 - 12:57:00 PM

Some letters people are sending to the Berkeley City Council say, in part: 

> "the former Premier Cru building, purchased by the > previous council to provide emergency housing > for Berkeley’s large homeless population." 

I think there is some popular misunderstanding afoot. I say this on the basis of the tour the HAC took of these properties prior to their purchase. 

The intention of the purchase, when it was made, was: 

1. To use 1011 University as a City Council Chambers. On the tour, we discussed the kinds of renovations that would be needed. In the very long term, redevelop the site as housing. 

2. To honor the existing long-term contract with the culinary school at 1007 University. Eventually (in the very long term) probably to build housing *over* it. (The building has some historic elements and I believe was once a theater of some significance. I am not sure if it has any kind of landmark protection.) 

3. In the short term, to use the warehouse at 1001 University either as an emergency shelter, or for some other City purpose such as storage for public safety equipment. In the long run, redevelop the site as housing. 

Thus, the idea to use 1011 University for Chambers is not new and is not a deviation from the plans at the time of purchase. 

I have personally discouraged any Councilmember who will listen from using 1011 for a short term emergency shelter. It lacks heating. It contains just a single toilet. It has a large room with a prison-like panoptic architecture -- a central office looking over it. It has two separate, unobservable areas in which, were a vulnerable person to become isolated by a malevolent person, it would be quite bad. Worse, the vague idea mentioned by our guide as to use one of those side areas as a women's area. 

I suspect that the City might be able, for 2017-2018, to cheaply rent better space for an emergency shelter, spending less than it would spend trying to heat the 1001 warehouse and expand sanitary facilities. 

Personally, I really like the City beginning to think in terms of building a landbank although this is an awfully challenging building to start with (because of its paucity of short-term uses). Putting chambers there still seems sensible to me.