Berkeley will open a new, 24-hour emergency homeless shelter in West Berkeley in July managed by the Dorothy Day House after the City Council approved a $1.1 million contract with the nonprofit on Tuesday.

The shelter, which has capacity for 50 people, will be located at 742 Grayson St. and is currently set to operate from July 1 through September 2022. It will replace the city’s previous plans to establish an emergency outdoor shelter after officials were unable to find an appropriate location over the last year during the COVID-19 pandemic, and is the first longterm shelter of its kind in the city.

The vacant building is tucked between Bayer and several industrial lots at the edge of Southwest Berkeley and is currently owned by 742 Grayson LLC, under the care of San Francisco-based REDCO development company, according to the Alameda County Assessors’s office. The city has entered into negotiations to lease the building and Dorothy Day House will manage the shelter program there once its bare-bones interior is renovated into a vibrant, livable space.

Dorothy Day has managed the city’s seasonal Berkeley Emergency Storm Shelter (BESS) for over 15 years. The latest iteration at Old City Hall closed for the season a couple weeks ago and was the first to stay open for 24 hours daily from November through April as shelters throughout the city cut down capacity and increased hours in response to the pandemic.

Residents from the BESS were all offered alternate shelter or housing opportunities upon its closure, and the new shelter on Grayson Street will offer space to a new set of residents based on need. Robbi Montoya of Dorothy Day House said many details are still in initial stages, including outreach to residents who could benefit from staying at the new shelter, but the location will serve a new neighborhood and hopefully extend the nonprofit’s services to a greater swath of unhoused Berkeleyans.

“We really have put a lot of thought into how unique and how successful this could be,” director of programs Montoya said of designing the new shelter. “What we’d like to do is have people come in to a safe, welcoming, 24-hour facility, and we are going to work very diligently in meeting each and every person where they’re at, have them involved in where they’re at, and where they want to be.”

The building that will eventually house the Berkeley Emergency Shelter is currently empty, but Dorothy Day House hopes to transform it into a welcoming, functional space. Credit: Supriya Yelimeli

In addition to services already offered at Dorothy Day House like laundry, meals and showers, Montoya wants the Grayson Street Shelter to have art classes, movie nights, barbecues, and other social opportunities that “may not seem important, but are crucial in making people feel good.”

“When you see this space (finished), it’s going to blow your mind, it’s just going to be — by itself, by the sheer magnitude of the place — it’s going to be a comfortable place for people,” said Montoya, who is planning to host open houses before the shelter’s planned July 1 opening. She said Dorothy Day House has maintained strict sanitation and safety protocols even before the pandemic was at its peak, and will continue to do so with the new space.

“We’ve had extreme success in keeping people healthy and we’re going to take those practices with us. Thats our primary goal, keeping people safe,” Montoya said.

The shelter will also be a service hub for residents who want to access healthcare through organizations like LifeLong Medical, mental health support and professional development or job training opportunities. Though the space has capacity for 50 people, Montoya said the goal is to serve residents and connect them to various resources so they can rotate out of the shelter, and ultimately allow the Grayson Street space to serve hundreds more.

Another view of the future Grayson Street emergency homeless shelter in West Berkeley that will be managed by Dorothy Day House. Credit: Supriya Yelimeli

“Creating emergency shelter and housing are essential steps toward long-term solutions that help those who are unhoused in Berkeley,” City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley said in a statement. “This long-term shelter is the first of its kind in Berkeley and fills a gap that allows more people access to shelter. No solution is perfect, but this will move us forward.”

Dorothy Day’s contract is currently finalized through September 2022, and Montoya said it’s too early to know what will happen afterward, but their goal is to extend the service model to as many areas of the city as possible.

“As the program develops I think we’ll have a better sense of where it goes from there. That’s really all we can do, work it one day at a time … do the best we can to show how important it is,” she said. “I think the City Council recognized it right away. They’re very supportive.”

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Supriya Yelimeli is a housing and homelessness reporter for Berkeleyside and joined the staff in May 2020 after contributing reporting since 2018 as a freelance writer. Yelimeli grew up in Fremont and...