UC Berkeley will offer housing for the homeless at People’s Park

In a unique partnership in American higher education, UC Berkeley and city and nonprofit collaborators unveiled plans on Wednesday to provide interim housing in a converted motel, as well as meals and social services, to homeless people sleeping in the iconic People’s Park.

The announcement marks a major milestone in the four-year journey to repurpose the park — one of California’s most contested lands with a half-century history of protests and strife — into space for much-needed housing for students and the low-income community. members. About 60% of the 2.8-acre park will remain open green space, and a memorial to its rich history will be erected.

But before construction began this summer, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ promised housing and a daytime gathering place would be provided for those living in the park — a number that fluctuates but is thought to be. that it is currently around 55.

On Wednesday, plans to do so were detailed by representatives from campus, the city of Berkeley and local nonprofits. The city and campus have reached an agreement to rent 42 rooms for 18 months at the Rodeway Inn for those who live in the park. Accommodations will include a private bedroom, newly renovated kitchenette and bathroom; linens and toiletries; housekeeping services; and access to laundry facilities.

A local non-profit organization, Abode Services, will provide residents with daily meal service, access to health care and counselling, transportation assistance and assistance in finding permanent housing. The city will cover the costs of the lease and nonprofit services for 12 months, using a $4.7 million state grant to help people living in encampments find safe and stable housing. UC Berkeley has committed $2.2 million to cover the last six months.

“We are grateful and humbled by the coming together of this new alliance in support of a new People’s Park,” Christ said in a statement. “Together, we will provide a true win-win for our students, for the homeless members of our community, and for all residents of the City of Berkeley.”

Additionally, the First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley plans to establish a day care center on its property. Another local nonprofit, Village of Love, will provide meals, mental health counselling, referrals to shelters, assistance with obtaining IDs and other documents, public benefits and housing. to community members in need. These services will be funded by a two-year, $500,000 grant from UC Berkeley and $250,000 from the city.

February 2021 aerial view of People’s Park in Berkeley.

(Jane Tyska/Getty Images)

“We are proud to honor the legacy of People’s Park and better serve the needs of our community through an effort that deeply reflects Berkeley values,” Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín said in a statement. “This partnership will put a roof over the heads of People’s Park residents, instead of just pushing them from one neighborhood to another.”

A study from the UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy led to the idea of ​​a day care center after researchers interviewed community members without homes in the park and found a strong desire for a safe place to rest and receive services.

Construction of student accommodation, which will include 1,100 beds, is expected to begin this summer. Christ called the severe student housing shortage one of the biggest threats to the university’s long-term future — and has been a contentious factor that threatens to force Berkeley to cut in-person enrollment this fall from more than 2,600 students.

The 100 permanent supportive housing units for formerly homeless, low-income community members will be developed and managed by a local non-profit organization, Resources for Community Development. Support services will be provided by LifeLong Medical Care.

But when the park is fenced off and closed once construction begins, it’s unclear if protesters will gather to retake the space as they have in the past. When the project was first announced in 2018, some homeless people in the park welcomed it while others opposed it, saying it would erase the space’s rich history and destroy the community bonds forged through community food, gardening and cultural events.

The park burst into the national spotlight in 1969, when hundreds of people hauled grass, trees and flowers onto a dilapidated lot the university was planning to build and proclaimed it their own park of the people. When UC closed the public a few weeks later, more than 6,000 protesters marched there and were driven back by law enforcement using tear gas and buckshot. The bloody battle left one student dead, one person blinded and dozens more injured and arrested.

UC Berkeley students and activists.

UC Berkeley students and activists rallied in May 1969 against the People’s Park construction project.

(Garth Eliassen/Getty Images)

Ari Neulight, a UC Berkeley homeless outreach coordinator who has worked at the park since 2017, said mixed feelings about the space remain today. Many people he works with in the park say their two main desires are safe, affordable housing and a welcome center for rest, food and services.

But there is no guarantee that meeting these needs will defuse any opposition to the housing project.

“The park is a complicated, contested space that everyone has an opinion on,” Neulight said. “No matter what happens at the park, there will always be a range of opinions.”

Los Angeles Times

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