In a historic partnership between the campus, the city and several local nonprofit organizations, the houseless population currently occupying People’s Park will be temporarily housed at the Rodeway Inn and assisted in securing permanent housing. This plan is a remarkable stride in addressing the immediate needs of Berkeley’s houseless community — but the project’s leaders must be held accountable in order to create long-term solutions.
A $4.7 million grant from the state will help the city fund 42 rooms at the Rodeway Inn, which will serve as temporary housing for 18 months, before a promised transition to permanent housing. UC Berkeley has also agreed to fund the final six months of the lease, totaling $2.2 million. While the campus and city have promised to assist the temporary residents of the Rodeway Inn in finding permanent housing, they have yet to provide concrete details.
Once the 18-month lease ends, the average cost of housing in Berkeley will likely remain high, and financial barriers to long-term housing will remain. This plan, though grand in its promise, may not sufficiently address the long-term needs of Berkeley’s houseless community. Therefore, campus and the city must follow through on their promise to provide adequate housing search support, transportation assistance and security deposits in the program budget.
UC Berkeley is also working with the city and the First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley to establish a daytime drop-in center by this upcoming summer. Located at the church, the drop-in center will be managed by the Village of Love nonprofit and will provide essential services for houseless people, including warm meals and mental health resources.
These resources are crucial in ensuring every houseless individual is included in the plan, especially when the 42 rooms at the Rodeway Inn may not be able to accommodate the roughly 55 people currently residing at People’s Park. Though widespread accessibility is crucial, the stakeholders should also recognize the historical mistrust between houseless populations and local officials and that not everyone may want to live in commodified housing. More financial support needs to go toward housing alternatives, mobile wellness centers and sustainable housing plans. Only then will a greater foundation of trust be built — a foundation that is also reliant on the city and campus keeping their promises with this plan.
Building more housing won’t help if it remains financially out of reach for the wider community. As an unprecedented collaboration between the city and campus, this project will lay the foundation for future developments, not only within Berkeley, but throughout the state. In order to make long-lasting change, the city and campus must go beyond this initial plan and ensure tangible, long-term outcomes for Berkeley’s houseless community.