Berkeley parks

Homeless people in Berkeley face challenges during winter season


With December fast approaching and pandemic capacity restrictions still in place at Berkeley shelters, homeless people in Berkeley face choices about how best to reduce their exposure to the weather and to diseases.

Winter typically results in increased donations of warm food and clothing and a slight increase in shelter capacity, but it also presents the homeless community of Berkeley with additional challenges, including colder temperatures, flooding in the streets and parks and the fear of being exposed to diseases inside.

“There is a lot of food support,” said Ari Neulight, outreach coordinator at UC Berkeley School of Social Welfare.

Neulight noted that the holiday season typically results in increased meal supplies, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that individuals’ dietary needs are being met.

In addition to food, the homeless were provided with specific winter material needs, including blankets, tarps and winter clothing such as hats, gloves, thermal clothing, hand warmers, clothes. socks and ponchos, Neulight said. Some non-profit organizations have also been able to provide tents.

“There have been challenges in making sure people are safe and healthy,” Neulight said.

To increase winter capacity, the shelter of the old town hall building on Martin Luther King Jr. Way opened Monday for the winter season, Neulight added.

Before the pandemic, Old Town Hall opened as a winter haven between Thanksgiving and April for people seeking relief from the weather elements, according to Neulight. Its opening would be triggered by meteorological and temperature thresholds.

Neulight said the shelter changed its winter operations to 24/7 services last year in response to the pandemic. This winter it will operate 24/7 with a capacity of 19 people and additional case management services.

While this model provides more services, it excludes people seeking temporary shelter from storms, Neulight said.

People’s Park Council member Maxina Ventura says People’s Park residents may need to balance exposure to the weather elements with the potential for greater exposure to illnesses indoors.

“They are outside. There is air. There is also a lot of sun, ”said Ventura. “As long as tents remain optional, park residents may in some ways be in a less dangerous situation.”

The onset of storms, such as the Atmospheric River which brought historic rains to the Bay Area in late October, also increases the risk of flooding.

The October storm caused flooding in People’s Park, particularly in the eastern end where UC Berkeley felled trees in 2018 and 2019, according to Ventura.

The streets were also flooded, leaving many damaged goods, Ventura said.

“Storm sewers all over town have been submerged and campsites everywhere have been submerged,” Ventura said. “It’s a dangerous situation.

Contact Alexandre Wohl at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @dc_arwohl.