City Councilwoman Sophie Hahn, Mayor Jesse Arreguín, and (now) Acting Deputy City Manager Paul Buddenhagen stand in the navigation center before it opened. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Berkeley’s new navigation center, which invites homeless people and their families and dogs to live together in a more relaxed environment than a traditional shelter, appears to be already having an impact, according to Mayor Jesse Arreguín’s office.

The center on Second Street in West Berkeley opened its doors on Tuesday, June 26. It can hold 45 people at a time, and was full by Friday, July 6, according to Karina Ioffee, the mayor’s director of communications.

More importantly, workers at the Pathways navigation center have already found permanent housing for some of the clients.

“There have already been two move-outs this week, both to permanent housing in Berkeley,” Ioffee wrote to members of the media. “Three more permanent housing move-outs are scheduled for next week. No one has exited back to the streets.”

While staff from BACS, or Bay Area Community Services, and the city of Berkeley have been doing outreach among various encampments, a number of the center’s current clients heard about the services through word of mouth and showed up on their own, said Ioffee.

The navigation center, modeled on those in San Francisco, allows people to come in and sleep next to their partners. They can bring their animals, too. They have access to showers, toilets and washing machines, an eating area and at least one meal a day. There are a number of garden-like gathering spaces, as well as a vegetable garden in the back. The center is open 24/7 and people are free to come and go as they please.

Those who are deemed “chronically homeless,” meaning they have been living on the streets for at least a year, are eligible to use the center’s services.

Arreguín and the City Council have made addressing Berkeley’s homeless population a top priority. There are approximately 900 homeless people in the city, most of them African-American, according to surveys. Berkeley has 166 permanent shelter beds as well as another 90 beds in the temporary BESS shelter on Ninth Street.

City officials wanted to provide a space where those living on the streets could find respite and also be surrounded by social services that could ultimately transition them to permanent housing. The city is spending $2.44 million this year for the navigation center, both to construct it and to run it.

Arreguín’s officer released these numbers about where those living in the center came from:

  • 10 people from the Gilman underpass,
  • 17 people from the area surrounding area  (i.e., those displaced after the 2nd Street encampment closed)
  • 7 from the University underpass
  • 5 from Ohlone Park
  • 4 people who self-presented at the gates and reported moving around Berkeley
  • 2 from the north side of the UC Berkeley campus.

Update July 12: Many readers asked what kind of housing the five individuals got. According to Jamie Almanza, the executive director of BACS, they have all moved into shared housing. They each have a bedroom in a house and have a lease with a private landlord for the room.

Avatar photo

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...