Storage lockers for people experiencing homelessness, located at BOSS’s Multi-Agency Service Center in the city’s Veterans Memorial building, are due to be available in September Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Nearly three years after promising to launch a program for the homeless to store their belongings in downtown Berkeley, the city is doing it — for a fraction of the original cost.

Last December, after approving $50,000 to operate the new program for a year, the Health, Housing and Community Services (HHCS) department put out a request for  Berkeley nonprofits to run the locker program. Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency (BOSS) was the only organization who responded by the April 2018 deadline.

The 58 lockers are located at BOSS’s Multi-Agency Service Center, at 1931 Center St. They each have nine cubic feet of space; they will be accessible from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the week, and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the weekends. The lockers will be assigned on a first-come, first-served basis, starting next month. There is no application process. Although there is no maximum time limit for use, lockers will be reassigned if left unattended for 31 days.

The city will provide and maintain them. BOSS will provide access and security.

“We saw a need, and we thought we could fulfill that need,’ said Donald Frazier, the Executive Director of BOSS.

“Hiring a nonprofit makes sense because they can leverage existing programs which work with same or similar populations, and deliver the service more efficiently,” said City of Berkeley spokesman Matthai Chakko.

The locker program is designed to provide a place for people without homes to keep items they normally would not have space for in a car, on the sidewalk or in a shelter. The city hopes that will entice more people experiencing homelessness to use city homeless shelters. Lack of storage space for personal belongings at those shelters is a major reason many people do not want to use them, according to a recent survey among the homeless population.

Frazier said the program will only go so far due to lack of adequate funds.

“Is that enough resources to accommodate that need? Absolutely not, and I think that’s commonly known… $50,000 dollars is not going to purchase much.”

“This is not going to be a solution for every single person who is homeless or comes through the city at any particular time,” acknowledges Chakko. “That is a very, very big number. At the same time, this is a step towards finding solutions to problems and figuring out if it can help.”

The original budget for the project, devised in February 2016,  prompted some sticker shock — $50,000 a year in startup costs and $350,000 a year for city staffers to run it — and it never came up for a vote.  The new plan will be overseen by the director of BOSS’s Multi-Agency Service Center and aides, instead of the higher-paid city case managers and paid security personnel that were originally envisioned. That program also had a larger footprint.

The City Council could have requested more than the initial $50,000 by waiting until November, when the city begins its budgeting process;  but that would likely have delayed the implementation of the program until 2019. And, given Berkeley’s chronic homeless problem, there was pressure from homeless advocacy groups, and from councilmembers, to get something going more quickly.

BOSS could potentially receive an extra $100,000, including the funds to operate a second site, during that budgeting process.

Martin Mercy, a reporting intern at Berkeleyside, is a rising high school senior, and writes for both the Lick-Wilmerding newspaper and its literary magazine. He lives in Berkeley and, during his free...