Jermane Gray, Joey Harrison, and Jeremy Pfiefer stand in front of Village of Love, all wearing face masks.
Left to right: Jermane Gray, Joey Harrison, and Jeremy Pfiefer stand in front of Village of Love. (Chris Lee)

The city of Alameda opened a brand new safe-parking site on August 17. It’s nestled within Alameda’s former Naval Air base, also called Alameda Point, where a 34-acre supportive housing community was established in 1999. Village of Love is operating both the new safe-parking site and the new adjoined Alameda Day Center, which provides a blend of peer counseling and supportive services for unsheltered people. A total of 25 Alameda residents who are over the age of 18 and have a running car (no RVs) can sign up for the safe-parking site. There, they can access a clean and quiet parking spot and amenities offered by the Day Center. Residents can live at the lot for up to six months, with the goal of transitioning into secure housing. A team of peer counselors is available to help. 

Joey Harrison, Executive Director of the Village of Love, says it’s been a real grassroots effort. It all started last year when Harrison and a small group of volunteers began organizing unsheltered support groups in Oakland’s Temescal district. That evolved into a quarterly pop-up event called Suppers and Showers, where unsheltered people can utilize both a food truck and a shower trailer. That event is staffed by volunteers from the surrounding Temescal neighborhood, which Harrison says helps build a sense of community. In April, the city of Alameda put out a call for service providers to operate a safe-parking site, and the Village of Love jumped at the opportunity to build a resource hub. 

“I really want to focus on making it more personal. Let’s sit down and talk. Come in, and let’s just sit and get to know you. Let’s just establish a relationship with you. Not because it’s my job, but because I care about you. That’s what we’re about here.”

Harrison says his organization seeks to foster a family atmosphere at the Day Center.

Staff are there to operate the parking site and also help unhoused people overcome the perpetual fatigue of navigating paperwork and jumping through hoops in order to access resources. The Day Center is open to all unsheltered residents in Alameda regardless of whether they participate in the safe parking program. Residents can sign up with the Day Center to receive mail, get referrals to support services, and receive assistance with housing, healthcare, career development and job placement.

The Alameda Day Center also offers access to a bathroom, a closet with clean clothes, hygiene kits, breakfast, lunch, snacks and lots of PPE. Urban Alchemy brings a trailer on Mondays so residents can shower. Dignity on Wheels has been tapped to provide laundry services (contract is pending). The Day Center plans to operate in partnership with its neighbors, Alameda Point Collaborative as well as Building Futures and Operation Dignity, who all offer transitional and permanent housing in the area as well as a mix of supportive services including meals, healthcare, mental health counseling, and generalized support for securing ID, and SSI. Alameda Point Collaborative operates a career resource center just steps from the Day Center.

“I really want to make it more personal. Let’s sit down and talk. Let’s just sit and get to know you.”

Harrison previously worked at Options Recovery Services in Berkeley and PEERS in East Oakland. Other staff members have spent time at East Oakland Recovery Center and Alameda Point Collaborative. Village of Love is not affiliated with another organization. However, this latest project was enabled through strategic partnerships with the City of Alameda. The city authorized $310,000 in funds for the project back in May of 2020. Additional support is provided by the State of California’s Homeless Emergency Aid Program as well as a flood of donations from the community of food, personal protective equipment, clothes, and furniture for the Day Center.

Alameda’s new Day Center has a crisp paint job, as the does the adjoined freshly-paved parking site. The center is set back from the street and surrounded with trees. Inside, one side of the large, carpeted space features a large television with some seating, which will soon become a living room where people can view movies. On the other side of the space, a staff member is stationed behind a food bar. Harrison says all the furniture was donated by the Alameda Chamber of Commerce. There is also a private conference room where he says they’ll host support groups for the residents of the safe-parking program as well as the wider community.

The first support group on offer is called You’re Not Alone, which invites parents of unsheltered adults with mental health issues to meet together and collectively resource solutions. Beyond that, he says, they’ll wait and see what kinds of supportive services people need as a community begins to take shape at the center.

“[The support group] is a space for the unsheltered to talk about what they feel about the neighborhood and the community they live in and have a voice. So, I can take these concerns back and say, ‘This is what we need. These are the services they need. This is what’s going on.’ I don’t believe in me just telling you what you need.”

The City of Alameda is sorely lacking a homeless shelter, with two slight exceptions. Operation Dignity has a shelter for veterans, and Christ Episcopal Church operates a warming shelter during the winter months. This means organizations like Alameda Point Collaborative and Building Futures rely heavily on mobile outreach in order to get unhoused individuals access to needed services. The new Day Center could help to change that, acting as a central hub for unhoused residents in Alameda. 

The safe-parking site will serve as an important stop gap until car dwellers secure stable housing. More than half of the 25 total vehicle spots remain open. There are also four trailers deployed by FEMA-Federal Emergency Management Agency parked near the site. Harrison says the city plans to operate a shuttle, bringing people to and from the Alameda Day Center from other parts of the island. Strict COVID-19 precautions are being taken at the Center including a required temperature screening at the door as well as mandated face masks and hand sanitizer.

Alameda Day Center is located at 431 Stardust Place in Alameda. While the shuttle is not operating at the time of this writing, the location is accessible via public transportation. The Day Center is open Monday-Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Call 510-827-8811 or e-mail info@thevillageoflove.com for more information.

Chris Lee is a writer and visual artist based in Oakland. They previously worked as a technical stage producer in San Francisco.