At the Berkeley city council meet- ing on May 21, Berkeley’s City Manager unveiled her budget proposal for the next four years. This proposed budget would eliminate $223,356 from Dorothy Day House’s proposed funding. This amounts to a 20 percent cut in the money we will receive from the city.
If they are allowed to stand, these cuts would eliminate the Free Break- fast Program that Dorothy Day House has run for decades. They would also decimate the Dorothy Day Shelter and the Berkeley Drop in Center. (Gratefully, the cuts would not alter the funding for the Emergency Storm Shelter, which is also run by Dorothy Day House.)
The proposed budget would also eliminate funding from several other programs that provide services for homeless people in Berkeley. These include Youth Spirit Artworks, the Quarter Meal Program at the Berkeley Food and Housing project, and the meal program at the Women’s Drop in Center.
The count of homeless individuals in Alameda County has increased
by 40 percent in the last two years. If funded adequately, I am confident that such programs can continue to provide services that will help unhoused people find support, and encourage them to move forward. Dorothy Day House is an exemplar of this work. We have demonstrated the ability to uplift the community through decades of work to support those who are without shelter or food.
Unlike other non-profit organizations, Dorothy Day House is funded entirely by the City of Berkeley. The majority of our staff come from within our guest population or were recently homeless. We operate with about three to four times the number of volunteers than staff. If the proposed budget is passed, there will be no way for us to provide the services we proposed and that the Homeless Com- mission enthusiastically approved.
The following is the funding we proposed for each program—which was fully endorsed by the Homeless Commission—compared to what is in the budget being recommended by the City Manager.
Free Breakfast Program:
Homeless Commission Recommendations $41,022
City of Berkeley Staff Recommendation: Zero
The Breakfast Program has been in existence for decades. It serves between 60-80 free meals every day, and has served over 10,000 in the last year.
Dorothy Day House Shelter:
Homeless Commission Recommendation: $577,000
City of Berkeley Staff Recommendation: $416,000
Located in the Veterans Building on Center Street, this shelter has been open every night since early fall. Prior to being located at the Veterans Building, we ran the shelter on 9th Street the previous year. Guests are referred by City of Berkeley Staff from a list of the 100 most vulnerable un-sheltered indi- viduals identified by various North County service agencies and Berkeley identified.
We are at capacity with 57 guests every night. The age of the average guest is over 50. Most guests are medically or mentally frail or both. This shelter is considered a low barrier shelter. This shelter often provides the first step in “coming in off the street” and finding a way forward.
Berkeley Drop in Center:
Homeless Commission Recommendation: $181,770
Staff Recommendation: $160,437
The Drop in Center in the Veteran’s Building is a vital service for Berkeley’s homeless community. It provides one of the only safe and secure spaces for people who are looking to get off the street during the day.
Dorothy Day House is hoping to take over leadership of the Drop In Center on July 1. Our plan is to expand the current program. It will be open 365 days a year instead of just mornings and holidays. We will provide four healthy meals, as well as respite from the street, emotional support, and community building. Our vision for the center is to bring service providers in on a regular basis to help navigate our guests through services that will enable them to begin to move forward with their lives. None of this, however, will be possible without adequate funding.
Berkeley Emergency Storm Shelter:
Homeless Commission Recommendation: $30,100
Staff Recommendation: $30,100
As mentioned previously, the preliminary budget does not eliminate any funding from the Berkeley Emergency Storm Shelter (BESS). BESS was open for 67 days this winter, serving a total of 311 unique guests. The average age of the guests was 49, and the average attendance was 27 people per night. A third of the guests were women. 224 guests were from Berkeley and 34 were from Oakland.
In a moment when the City of Berkeley is flush with money for homeless services—secured in November by Measures O and P as well as HEAP monies—why is it necessary to cut funding from these programs?
The City of Berkeley, and the county around it, are experiencing a true crisis in the numbers of unsheltered human beings. There is no one solution and there is no one size fits all. There needs to be a variety of programs that speak to the variety of those who need food and shelter.
Not everyone is willing to come into a shelter. People without shelter and without food do not have the time or the luxury of working their way through the thorny thicket of bureaucracy without help and support. People who do come to shelters need to have services that help them reach the next step, and then the next. This is not something that can be turned away from. It is our humanitarian crisis, and we are all called to lend a hand in any way we can.
We urge you to come and speak up in support of our programs at the Berkeley City Council meeting on June 11.
Susan Black is a long time Berkeley resident. She has worked on housing issues for over 50 years. She is a volunteer at Dorothy Day House, and sits on their Board of Directors as Community Outreach Coordinator.