The Veteran’s Memorial Building in Berkeley.

The Veteran’s Memorial Building at 1931 Center Street (Alastair Boone)
After closing the doors at its Ninth Street location on August 31, the shelter will move into a new building for the foreseeable future.

After weeks of uncertainty, the Berkeley Emergency Storm Shelter has found a new—and potentially permanent—home. On October 1, BESS moved to 1931 Center Street, the former location of the Berkeley Food and Housing Project’s men’s and veterans’ shelter programs. (These programs have now moved into the same building as the women’s shelter, on Dwight Way.)

This is welcome news to the employees of Dorothy Day House—the nonprofit that runs the shelter—who were forced to close their doors at their old location on Ninth Street on August 31 due to fire code regulations. In the last month, they have run their operation out of two temporary locations using a need-based voucher system: the North Berkeley Senior Center and the Francis Albrier Community Center. These locations reached capacity and turned a number of people away nearly every night, according to Dorothy Day House Director, David Stegman. 

The new BESS location will be open every day from 7 p.m. to 10 a.m. starting October 1. Unlike in its temporary locations, the new shelter will offer hot meals for breakfast and dinner, as well as laundry services, toilets, and some storage space. It will also house 80 guests per night—a size up from the temporary locations, which each only had space for 60 people. Stegman plans to open up the space early for social service agencies such as the city’s Homeless Outreach Team and the Suitcase Clinic. These groups will help guests work towards transitioning into jobs and permanent housing.

The question now is how long Dorothy Day will be able to operate out of the Veterans Memorial Building. As of opening, there is no official timeframe for how long the shelter will be allowed to stay. City officials estimate that there is enough money for BESS to operate there until April. After that, much will depend on Measure P—the Berkeley ballot measure that aims to raise the property transfer tax from 1.5 percent to 2.5 percent on the top one-third of property sales to increase funds for homeless services. This additional money could allow the shelter to remain on Center Street for a longer time frame and add more comprehensive homeless services. Measure P could also allow the shelter to move to a new and better location somewhere else. 

This uncertainty spells worry for some of the shelter’s advocates, who have grown accustomed to eleventh-hour decisions by the city about whether or not the shelter will be granted an extension. The city renewed the Ninth Street shelter’s contract four times before it finally closed in August, without much forewarning.

“They’ve waited until the very last minute every two months to renew the contract,” said Susan Black, a Dorothy Day House board member, at the end of August. “It says something very clearly about how the city feels about these people.” 

However, Dorothy Day House Director David Stegman is hopeful. The Veterans Memorial Building is already where Dorothy Day has its central kitchen, which will make cooking and serving meals easy. And the fire code regulations that required BESS to leave its Ninth Street location won’t be a problem in the Veterans Memorial Building, which has been used as a homeless shelter for the past 30 years.

Furthermore, the city has used the time after the men’s and veterans’ shelter programs moved out to make improvements to the Veterans Memorial Building, such as fixing up showers and electrical problems, and removing bed bugs. “I have to give the city credit on this one, because there won’t be any lag time between moving out of Francis Albrier on Sunday, and moving into [Center Street] on Monday [the first],” he said. “But we’re not going to stop looking at the longer-term solutions.” 


Alastair Boone is the Director of Street Spirit.