Although Berkeley’s Sacred Rest Drop-In Center for houseless people is temporarily closed to accommodate a summer camp, Village of Love executive director and founder Joey Harrison has found other ways to serve the city’s unhoused community.
The drop-in center, which opened in June, has been in the works for some time, according to UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof. The center is a collaboration between the city, campus and its homeless outreach coordinator Ari Neulight and the Village of Love.
“Architect Sam Davis, an emeritus faculty member with extensive experience designing affordable housing and facilities for the unhoused, developed the initial design for the Drop-In Center in consultation with church leaders, city and university project members, and a non-profit service provider that operates a similar Drop-In Center,” Mogulof said in an email.
Campus paid for the site preparation and construction of the site at the First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley, Mogulof said. However, he added that both the city and the university share the cost of a two-year grant to the Village of Love for management and operation of the center.
According to Mogulof, the idea for the drop-in center originated from a Goldman School of Public Policy study that interviewed unhoused community members in People’s Park about what might improve their situation.
“A great many of those interviewed noted that a safe place to rest and connect with services during the day was sorely needed,” Mogulof said in the email. “The report recommended the creation of a church and community-led drop-in center where unhoused community members could rest, use the restroom, get cleaned up, eat a meal, and meet with providers.”
Currently, according to Peter Radu, Berkeley’s assistant to the city manager, the center provides services such as meals, mental health counseling, employment and housing assistance, benefits access and showers, among other things. It regularly serves about 10 people daily, Harrison said, though it has served as many as 25 to 30 in a single day.
Harrison and his team, who have been operating the center since June, have long been preparing for the center’s closure from July 18 to Aug. 1, Harrison said. Per their lease agreement, the church is using the center space for their two-week summer camp.
With this in mind, Harrison said his team has been working to make connections with community partners to ensure guests of the drop-in center are adequately provided for during its closure.
Mogulof added guests at the center were specifically directed to Bay Area Community Services and the Dorothy Day House Drop-In Center and were given a phone number to call if they need any additional services. Radu noted the Berkeley Community Resource Center and the Berkeley Drop-In Center could provide services to houseless people as well.
“The team is still out there doing outreach, handing out hygiene kits, meeting the community,” Harrison said. “(Instead of) being in the one location now they’re kind of mobile in the area.”
Guests normally served at the center can also still receive shower and clothing cleaning services on Fridays, Harrison noted. Such provisions remain necessary for houseless community members, especially since the bathroom of People’s Park was welded shut at the beginning of July, as first reported by Berkeleyside.
Harrison himself has a long background in serving the unhoused community, from conducting trainings on deescalation and preventing the criminalization of houselessness to helping build a houseless outreach program in the Temescal area.
Harrison said it was his own experiences that led him to develop a program of assistance for houseless people through Village of Love, which now has multiple locations in the East Bay.
“I was homeless and went through this, I was the clients we are helping now eight years ago,” Harrison said. “It’s really community based, I’m big on building community — bridging the gap between the housed and unhoused.”
The city, campus and church, Harrison said, have thus far been “great” and “very supportive” throughout the process of running the center.
Looking forward, Harrison hopes to continue fostering relationships with Berkeley community members.
“We’re getting out there and going to continue to build our relationships with our community partners as well as our guests,” Harrison said.