Berkeley Seeks State Grant for Low-Barrier Interim Shelter for the Unhoused

Isabelle Gaston
Monday March 20, 2023 - 04:36:00 PM

At the end of February, the City of Berkeley applied for a state grant to provide a low-barrier interim shelter for Berkeley’s unhoused with a pathway to permanent housing. If all goes well, the award will be granted at the end of April, and the process of transferring people to the Super 8 motel on University Avenue from two homeless encampments will begin in early July.  

According to a staff presentation at a Budget and Finance Committee meeting on February 9, the objective of this new program is to: 

"Transition individuals into interim shelter with clear pathways to permanent housing or directly into permanent housing, using data informed, non-punitive, low-barrier, person-centered, Housing First, and coordinated approaches." 

The proposal submitted to the California Interagency Council on Homelessness is for a four-year master lease. The total cost, with a matching commitment of Measure P dollars, is $9.95 million. It includes personnel, non-personnel, and administration. The 12.5 staff include five residential assistants, two housing navigators, two program managers, one program coordinator, and one clinical case manager. 

There are 23 rooms at Super 8, some with multiple beds, and all have microwaves and private bathrooms. There is one ADA room. Residents will pick up their meals (Berkeley Food and Housing Project is a service provider) in the kitchen and eat together in a community space if they so choose. Rooms cost $110 per night and there is a $2200 per room/per year maintenance fee. A 3% increase will be applied after the first year. 

When asked by Councilmember Harrison to define “low barrier,” staff answered that couples can be together; visitors and pets are allowed; and there are no sobriety requirements for access to services. The concept is to “make it as easy as possible, like they are on the street, to come indoors.” 

The demographics of the 31 individuals who qualify for the program are: 60% white; 20% African American; 7.5% multiracial; 7.5% American Indian, Alaska Native, or Indigenous; and 5% unknown. Eighteen percent are Hispanic/Latin (a) (o) (x). The majority are male (65%). Ages range from 26 to 70, with the majority between 35 to 64. There are no children. The majority have mental health and drug and/or alcohol use disorder conditions. Physical health and developmental health conditions are also common. Two people are HIV positive. 

The two homeless encampments tied to the grant are on Harrison Street and 2nd Street. They are considered some of the most “challenging” according to staff. Aside from People’s Park, these two camps take up the “lion’s share” of their efforts on the streets which is due to the “growing accumulation of debris, trash, bulky items like mattresses, furniture, and pallets, and hazardous materials like human and pet waste, rodent harboring conditions such as open and rotting food sources causing dangerous living situations for residents and businesses nearby.” 


One commenter at the meeting, Ayanna Davis from Healthy Black Families, voiced her concern about the vulnerability of the population to be housed. She encouraged the city to offer onsite mental health services to support the residents at the motel.  

A friend of mine who lives not far from the Harrison encampment expressed similar concerns. He said that some of the homeless show signs of acute alcoholism and get into fights. Calls to BPD are not unusual. Given the proximity of Super 8 to Ohlone Park (two blocks) and adjacent neighborhoods, it could be problematic if substance abuse treatment services are not available (normally they are provided by the county).  

Councilmember Kesarwani, whose district the homeless encampments are in, asked staff about the likelihood of repopulation with other homeless once the existing encampments have been cleared. She noted that the sites on Harrison and 2nd are known desirable locations for encampments. Staff said that the “re-encampment prevention piece is outside the scope of the current grant opportunity.” 

The city has a pre-existing partnership with Super 8. There are currently homeless from the “Here There” encampment living in the motel as part of the winter shelter program. However, their stay is limited to 60 days due to the way the county funding is structured. This will not be the case for those receiving interim shelter through the state program where individuals can stay for up to four years. 

If the grant is awarded, those living at the Harrison encampment will be the first to be transferred to Super 8. If it is rejected, staff said there is an opportunity to reapply, with a deadline of June 30.