Berkeley emergency shelter at capacity for winter season amid storms

Berkeley has recorded 3.75-4.4 inches of rain since the storm began Sunday, with the highest totals in the hills.

The intersection of Seventh Street and Allston Way flooded during a storm on Dec. 13, 2021. Credit: Guillaume Pierre

Several roads are flooded, and Berkeley’s emergency storm shelter for homeless residents is at capacity as the city braces against its second (though milder) atmospheric river storm of the winter season.

Berkeley has recorded between 3.75-4.4 inches of rain since the storm began Sunday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service. Rain totals are higher in the Berkeley Hills than downtown and the flats.

The previous storm in October dumped around 9 inches of rain at the highest altitudes in Berkeley over the same period and considerably alleviated fire risk in drought-impacted areas throughout the Bay Area.

The Ashby Avenue underpass leading to Interstate 80 is flooded, and the street will be closed “for the next several days” between the highway and Seventh Street, according to Berkeley police. Other low-level streets that flooded during the previous storm, like the intersection of Seventh Street and Allston Way, are once again filled with water.

While Santa Cruz County is experiencing the strongest storm impacts, a flood warning will also go into effect in the East Bay Hills from 4-10 p.m. Monday.

“Even though the heaviest rain has likely passed, you could still see runoff from creeks and streams that goes into low-level poor drainage areas,” NWS meteorologist Jeff Lorber said.

There may be isolated showers Tuesday but the heaviest rain was concentrated on Monday, according to the NWS.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the storm overlaps with the second winter season, where pandemic restrictions are in place for local homeless shelters. The Berkeley Emergency Storm Shelter (BESS) in Old City Hall opens the first Monday after Thanksgiving annually and is currently at capacity with 19 residents.

It’s open 24 hours a day with meals, showers and laundry, but capacity has dropped significantly to ensure the health and safety of its residents, according to Robbi Montoya, executive director of Dorothy Day House. The nonprofit, which has its own shelter, contracts with the city to run BESS.

“We need more of what we have,” said Montoya, commending the city for its work expanding some shelter services. “If it wasn’t for COVID, we would have 52 people in the [BESS], but we’re just kind of beholden by COVID restrictions.”

Staff have increased services like case management work to account for the lowered capacity and connect residents with resources like LifeLong Medical Care. Workers with the Downtown Business Improvement District, Berkeley Mental Health, Bay Area Community Services and the Housing Resource Center did outreach for BESS and referred residents to shelter beds before BESS opened, according to Montoya.

The priority at the emergency shelter is to connect residents with long-term, permanent solutions, Montoya said. She hopes many of the residents can transition into housing options well before it closes in April, creating opportunities for more homeless residents to get respite during the winter.

Berkeley residents who want to support neighbors who are not able to find shelter during the winter can find more information in the Street Spirit homeless newspaper’s winter support guide.

“Hopefully, we can do our jobs really well at BESS this year and make those beds available for more people,” said Montoya, adding that one resident at the Dorothy Day shelter was able to connect with family across the country and find housing after only a month-and-a-half stay. “In the perfect world, we’d be able to serve more than 19 people.”

Supriya Yelimeli is Berkeleyside's homelessness and housing reporter. Email: supriya@berkeleyside.org. Twitter: SupriyaYelimeli. Phone: 510-585-8315.