OpinionOpinion

Op-ed: Not in my front yard: Cuts to downtown services threaten basic quality of life for the homeless

While the number one priority for serving homeless people is (or should be) helping them find affordable housing to live in, for the last several years the city has also rightly deemed it an important quality-of-life priority that homeless people have access to showers, bathrooms, and laundry facilities.

Until now.

BOSS’s Multi-Agency Service Center (MASC) is a downtown drop-in center located in the basement at the City Veterans building. Since 2000, it has provided access to showers, bathrooms, laundry, and, simply, a safe place to be off the street during the day. Depending on funding, it has also provided a fluctuating array of case management, housing search assistance, access to computers, food, and other support services.

This program provided a huge bang for the buck — for $82,000 for drop-in services, and $24,702 for showers annually, a handful of MASC staff provided access to the above described services and amenities for hundreds of Berkeley’s homeless each year. This service helped to ensure a basic quality of life for people in need which, in turn, benefits the entire downtown — businesses, residents, tourists and visitors.

Last year the City of Berkeley cut funding to the MASC. Formerly open seven days a week, it reduced days and hours and is now open Monday to Friday, 8am-12 noon.

This year the City cut funding again and BOSS will have to turn away all drop-in traffic so that people must find daily refuge in parks or on sidewalks. The City also cut funding to other drop-in programs (e.g. Women’s Daytime Drop-in Center and Berkeley Drop-in Center), as they have narrowed their focus to the continued development and expansion of the ‘Hub’ — a central coordinated entry system for all homeless service delivery located in South Berkeley.

The Hub has no showers and no laundry, and it is in a residential community. Historically, communities have resisted the presence of housing and service programs in residential neighborhoods — the Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) phenomenon. Is this the emergence of a Not In My Front Yard (NIMFY) movement, resisting the presence of basic amenities for homeless people in a city’s communal downtown?

BOSS agrees that the city and providers will learn quite a bit from the Hub, specifically statistics, and we hope it will improve the ability of our community to find homeless people homes in a culturally appropriate manner. But we do not believe this learning has to come at the expense of people’s basic quality of life, their ability to congregate downtown in safety with peers, or their ability to clean their clothes and their bodies. Does it?

Let your city council member know your views — call the City Clerk to be connected to your council member) at 510-981-6900.

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Sonja Fitz is Director of Development and Marketing for Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency (BOSS). She has worked for BOSS for 30 years and is a lifelong East Bay resident