The daytime drop-in center at the First Presbyterian Church has a small green space, portable toilet, breakfast area, benches and areas to charge devices. Credit: Supriya Yelimeli

Update, July 18: The Sacred Rest drop-in center will be closed until Aug. 1 but shower service will still be available at the location outside on Fridays, according to the Village of Love.

People passing by the location told Berkeleyside on Monday that the drop-in location had closed, seemingly without notice. A sign posted outside says it will be closed through July 29, and be back on Aug. 1.

The location is one of the only public bathrooms in the Telegraph Avenue area because the People’s Park bathrooms were welded shut when it opened at the end of June. That bathroom is still closed as of Monday, and the only remaining ones are on the UC Berkeley campus or the Telegraph-Channing parking garage at 2450 Durant Ave.

Village of Love Executive Director Joey Harrison said the closure is a temporary two-week pause that was written into the space’s lease, and the organization will be doing outreach until it reopens. Mobile showers will be still offered outside on Haste Avenue on July 22 and 29.

Beth Thomsen, director of outreach for First Presbytarian Church where the center is located, said the church is using the space for two weeks to train counselors and host a Vacation Bible School camp for local children.

“When you get something going, I don’t like to pause, but it was out of my control,” said Harrison, explaining that Village of Love informed visitors of the upcoming pause well in advance. After it reopens, he said there are no additional closures planned.

Original story: A daytime drop-in center opened Monday at the First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley, offering meals, a respite area, device charging, a restroom, lockers and outdoor space for local homeless residents.

Village of Love is managing the site, which was previously an empty dirt lodge wedged between buildings on the church property on Haste Street. UC Berkeley and the city announced in March that they would be funding the site in ongoing efforts to divert homeless residents from People’s Park and provide alternate services, including housing at the Rodeway Inn, where many of the park’s former occupants are now living.

What: Daytime drop-in center

Where: First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley, entrance between 2423 and 2433 Haste Avenue

Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday to Friday

Services: Breakfast, portable toilet, charging areas for devices, on-site housing navigator, daytime lockers

  • Mobile showers will become available next week

Joey Harrison, founder and executive director of Village of Love, said his main goal is to create an uplifting space for people to relax and be connected to services. He grew up in Berkeley and Oakland and was homeless for about eight years before finding a support system to get back on his feet, Harrington said at the drop-in center Wednesday.

“I felt like a number, a client, which left me feeling disconnected,” Harrison said of his experiences at traditional shelters.

Most days, his focus on immediate needs like food or a bathroom left him overwhelmed when addressing larger issues like acquiring benefits and housing or even performing simple tasks like going to the DMV and getting a license.

“I had lost a lot of skillsets that I took for granted, and I had to relearn those things,” Harrison said. “I want this to be like grandma’s house, so you have the love and support that makes you comfortable enough to say, ‘I forgot how to do this.'”

Laron Sanders, site manager at the drop-in center, and Joey Harrison, founder and executive director of Village of Love. Credit: Supriya Yelimeli

Cal and the city put in $500,000 and $250,000, respectively, to fund meals, mental health counseling, support with documents, housing navigation and other services at the drop-in center for the next two years. The university agreed to fund the center in an $83 million settlement with the city stemming from lawsuits over the university’s increasing enrollment.

The transition to Rodeway Inn for People’s Park occupants began in May, and the park has undergone a major transformation in the last two weeks as dozens of tents have been cleared out to make way for piles of tanbark and logs pending UC’s development of a 1,100-bed student housing complex.

On Wednesday, Cal closed public restrooms at the park and welded doors shut. Posted signs direct people to use the new service hub, where a portable bathroom is available and states that overnight camping is not allowed at the park.

“We committed to proceed with construction at People’s Park only after having a plan in place that offers access to shelter and services to all the people sleeping in the park,” Cal spokesperson Kyle Gibson said in a statement, thanking the city for its support.

“Our social worker and members of the city’s Homeless Response team have provided multiple offers of housing and shelter options to everyone sleeping at the park, and nearly every offer has been accepted,” Gibson said. “And now, a new daytime drop-in center has opened at the First Presbyterian Church, well before the park is closed.”

Cal has not yet announced a date for construction to begin at the park, and activism is ongoing — both in the courts and on the ground — to prevent development at the historic site.

Peter Radu, an assistant to the city manager who leads Berkeley’s efforts to end homelessness, added that the Southside neighborhood is relatively underserved by resources and he’s excited that the drop-in center will provide support in the neighborhood.

Homeless activists have long maintained that the stretch of Telegraph Avenue near People’s Park has few bathrooms to serve the large population of students, visitors and others.

During the first week at the drop-in center, Harrington said about 20 people have come to the site daily. Village of Love is working on outreach efforts to spread the word to more folks, including collaborating with the Telegraph Avenue Business Improvement District.

On Tuesday, the drop-in center had a barbecue lunch hosted by Everett and Jones, and there are plans to set up movie nights and mobile showers next week.

As demand grows, Harrington said programming will shift to better serve people coming to the center.

“My number one goal is for [people] to come in and develop a relationship with us, and to let them know this is your space.”

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...