A homeless man rests in the shade on the steps of the Veterans Building in Berkeley, which is set to serve as a warming center for the city during winter weather conditions. Photo: Emilie Raguso

The city of Berkeley has doubled its capacity for emergency storm shelter beds this week, following a council directive to get more homeless individuals indoors, and will make those beds available through Monday night in light of current weather conditions.

In a memo to the Berkeley City Council sent Thursday, City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley said up to 130 shelter beds will be available Friday through Monday at the North Berkeley Senior Center at 1901 Hearst Ave. and at the Frances Albrier Community Center at 2800 Park St. Normally, there are 65 spots available.

Read more coverage about homelessness in Berkeley.

The city has also contracted with two community agencies — the BOSS Multi-Agency Service Center and the Berkeley Food and Housing Project — to offer warming center hours, from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the Veterans Building, “so that those without housing have a place to go that is out of the elements,” according to the memo. Further details appear at the bottom of this story.

Tuesday night, council authorized city staff to set aside other tasks and focus attention on increasing shelter beds and warming center hours for individuals who sleep outside. Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín had placed an ambitious package (“Emergency Measures to Address Homeless Crisis”) on the agenda, and discussion about that item ultimately led to a suggestion from Williams-Ridley to authorize an “emergency operations center,” or EOC.

Frances Albrier Community Center will have shelter beds.

Counter to what its name may suggest, the EOC is essentially an approach to decision-making and resource prioritization, rather than a physical location.

“The EOC activation allows the City to marshal resources in a coordinated fashion that would otherwise not be possible in the normal course of operations,” according to Thursday’s memo.

Tuesday night, Councilman Kriss Worthington thanked Mayor Arreguín for making the elimination of homelessness the top priority of his new administration, and said the city owes him an “enormous debt of gratitude” for taking that stand.

This week’s council vote follows a two-month battle between the city and a group of community members — some of whom are organized under the moniker “First They Came for the Homeless,” and others who are with the group Disabled People Outside — who have criticized how the city offers services to unhoused individuals. A roving protest camp has been setting up in locations around Berkeley since early October to make its voice and complaints heard, and the city has repeatedly sent in police to disband those camps. Some campers have said their property has been confiscated and stored in substandard conditions, and Tuesday night an attorney representing them told council that the city should let them remain in their camps unless there is an urgent issue related to health or safety.

“We should not be criminalizing folks who are living as residents in our community who are unsheltered currently,” said EmilyRose Johns, associate attorney with Oakland law firm Siegel & Yee.

City staff has met daily since Wednesday morning to plan and deploy resources through the new EOC. Beginning Friday, an outreach coordinator will be part of the team “to ensure we do as much as possible to contact and offer services to homeless people,” Williams-Ridley wrote.

EOC staff have thus far identified six goals, which include making shelters and services geographically accessible; making sure warming centers are in operation through January; increasing storm center capacity immediately; looking at whether “navigation centers” might work well in Berkeley; doing outreach in the community about available services; and documenting city efforts “thoroughly” that are related to homeless services and outreach.

The city has appointed two staffers to be liaisons to council regarding the EOC: Rose Thomsen, deputy city clerk, and Timothy Burroughs, the city’s chief resilience officer.

The city already has contracts with community agencies to provide 140 shelter beds in Berkeley.

Details about warming center and shelter hours and locations follow.

Warming centers: The details

The Multi-Agency Service Center, run by Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency, is located in the Veterans Building at 1931 Center St. and will be open as a warming center from 8 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. The Berkeley Food and Housing Project will offer hours at the same location from 4:45-6:30 p.m.

Under typical conditions, the service center is only open from 8 a.m. to noon.

Shelter beds: The details

Friday through Monday, the North Berkeley Senior Center (1901 Hearst) and Frances Albrier
Community Center (2800 Park) will be open overnight and each have a 65-bed capacity. Hours of operation run from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m., except for Sunday night when the senior center won’t open until 9:30 p.m.

Berkeley launches ’emergency operations center’ to help shelter more homeless (12.14.16)
Civil-rights groups sue Caltrans over homeless raids (12.14.16)
New mayor aims to overturn key part of homeless law (12.08.16)
City clears out homeless encampment after feces found spread on city buildings (12.02.16)
Homeless encampment moved from Civic Center steps to corner across from BHS (11.07.16)
Police roust homeless camp; activists vow to return (11.04.16)
Protesters criticize Berkeley homeless services center (10.07.16)
Vigil held where Berkeley homeless man died in street (09.24.16)
Homelessness panel: ‘There’s no place for people to go’ (09.12.16)

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...