People’s Park activists this week opened a temporary emergency warming center to provide heated shelter, food and water to the homeless during fierce winter storms that have brought torrents of rain, high winds and even hail to Berkeley.
The heating center consists of two large canvas tents held together by 400-pound water drums, patio heaters, and several folding chairs and tables. He is currently sitting on a basketball court where construction equipment had been parked since the summer until Monday morning.
They protested outside Old City Hall on Sunday, calling on the city of Berkeley to open an emergency 24-hour warming shelter, and sending emails to politicians and city workers — to no avail, said Enrique Marisol, a UC Berkeley sociology student. By Monday, they decided to take matters into their own hands, and were soon texting friends and other park activists, and organizing trips to buy supplies.
“It came together really quickly,” Marisol said. Word got out, and by Tuesday afternoon, the center opened its beige canvas doors. That evening, the organizers cooked a meal for 20 people. Five people stayed the night there, including one who previously slept under a bridge by Strawberry Creek at UC Berkeley.
They said the greenhouse center, which was funded by donations from People’s Park activists, costs about $1,500 and can hold up to 40 people “if crowded.” Tents, heaters, and propane tanks make up the bulk of operating costs, and volunteers have donated clothes, ponchos, blankets, sleeping bags, and toiletries. People Park community members were taking turns watching. Local grassroots organizations, including Homeless and Food Not Bombs, have also declined.
“We need a contingency plan that includes protecting lives and unhoused residents,” said Naya Rose, a parks activist who has urged the University of California, Berkeley, to reopen park bathrooms and turn the water and electricity back on. “Let us offer what the city fails to provide.”
Activists say the unhoused people have been subjected to harsh conditions
The Berkeley emergency storm shelter in Old City Hall has been at maximum capacity of 19 residents since December, said Robbie Montoya, executive director of the Dorothy Day House, which operates the shelter.
When temperatures drop below 45 degrees or when there is more than a 50% chance of rain, the city recommends that those in need of shelter head to the North Berkeley Senior Center’s emergency warming center. City spokesperson Matai Chaku said the heating center can accommodate up to 88 people and provides clean clothes and socks (when available), personal protective equipment, snacks and weekend meals.
Unlike a winter shelter, an emergency heating center is activated at night, opening the doors at 6:30 pm and closing early in the morning before libraries or indoor public spaces open. These timing gaps left some unhoused residents, including the elderly and disabled, waiting outside in the dark, exposed to the elements.
“At six o’clock in the worst of the storms last Wednesday, there were 22 people gathered, driven into that building, drenched in anticipation of the opening of that building,” Rose said.
On Saturday, the city extended the heating center closing time from 6:30 a.m. to 8 a.m. in response to community concerns, said Peter Rado, the city’s homeless services coordinator. Radu said that throughout the winter storms, his outreach team has visited unhoused residents across town, particularly those living in campers west of San Pablo Street near Codornices Creek, advising them to evacuate flood areas and informing them of shelter options.
The Berkeley Community Resource Center at 1931 Center Street, a day reception center also operated by the Dorothy Day House, opens at 8 am daily and is approximately a 10-minute walk from the North Berkeley Senior Center. “It’s not a shelter per se, but there’s TV, and there’s food,” Montoya said. “We stay open until 6 p.m. in time for the heating center to open, and people can go in there and sleep.”
The future of People’s Park remains in limbo
On Monday, the University of California removed vandalized bulldozers from People’s Park amid a lawsuit that could upend the school’s plan to build 1,100 student beds in two buildings, one 12 stories high and the other six stories high, along with 125-bed student support housing. non-sedating
A court cleared the way for UCLA to begin construction on the site last July, but a week later they were met by activists who demolished a hastily built fence, forcing construction crews to halt their activity.
Subsequently, a judge granted Make UCLA a Good Neighbor and People Park Historic Advocacy Group an injunction to allow the court to review an appeal petition of the original CESQA lawsuit. The case was heard in court on Thursday.
UC Berkeley confirmed that the area remains a construction site.
“(N)we continue to discourage people from trespassing and engaging in activities that pose a potential danger to themselves, as well as students and community members who live in the neighborhood,” Dan Mogolloff, a UC Berkeley spokesperson, wrote in an email.
Organizers plan to continue operating the shelter through at least the next week, when rain is expected, however, conditions may begin to dry as late as next Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.
“We’re doing our best, but there’s still water on the floor,” Marisol said. “The tent is just walls and a roof.”
Clarification: This story initially stated that the Global Warming Center was funded by the activist group Defend People’s Park. It is funded by People’s Park activists.