Berkeley homeless shelter closed after resident tests positive for COVID-19

The person who had been living at the Pathways/STAIR Center has been moved to a hotel in Oakland to recover from the virus. Most of the other residents have moved to a nearby hotel.

The Pathways project on Second Street is temporarily closed after a resident tested positive for COVID-19. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

The Pathways/STAIR Center on Second Street has been shut down temporarily after one of its residents tested positive for COVID-19.

All of the clients left the shelter on Monday, with most moving to one of the hotels in Oakland that is part of Project Roomkey, according to Jonathan Russell, the associate director of programs for BACS, Bay Area Community Services, which runs the shelter. The Alameda County program was set up to house people who have the virus, who have been exposed to the virus, or who are medically fragile.

“The shelter is on pause for anyone staying on site,” said Russell.

People will be allowed back in the Pathways/STAIR Center after its trailers are cleaned and are safe for occupancy, said Russell. The longest that would be is two weeks, said Russell, but he thinks it will be shorter.


Berkeley has moved more than 40 unhoused individuals to one of the two rented Oakland hotels that are part of Operation Roomkey, City Councilman Rigel Robinson said in a newsletter on Tuesday. There are 393 hotel rooms total, and the county and state are paying about $3.4 million to rent them from mid-March through the end of April. Each room is $186 a day. FEMA will reimburse the county and state for 75% of that cost.

Berkeley City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley announced in a virtual town hall meeting on Saturday that one unhoused individual had tested positive for the coronavirus.

In the last few weeks, ever since it set up its own testing site in West Berkeley, the public health division and Berkeley firefighters have stepped up testing of medically vulnerable people. All of the shelters in the city have suggested that people over 65 or who have underlying health conditions should go stay at the Radisson Hotel in Oakland. Most have agreed, although some people have declined the offer, said Williams-Ridley.

Before the individuals are taken to Oakland, they are tested for COVID-19 at the city’s testing site, said Matthai Chakko, the city spokesman.


Chakko would not specify how many homeless people have tested positive for the coronavirus but would only say it was fewer than 10.

Berkeley is also looking to lease hotel rooms in the city to house homeless people, said Williams-Ridley. It has also set up 18 trailers and a house with four bedrooms to house the medically fragile and those with the virus. No one has yet moved into those facilities.

The city is also planning to open a new temporary homeless shelter at 1730 Oregon St., the MLK Jr. Youth Services Center, also known as YAP, to house around 30 people, said Chakko. He did not know the timing of its opening as the staff is still being trained.

Russell said all of the former clients of the Pathways/STAIR Center who did not want to move to an Oakland hotel went to stay at the houses of friends or relatives. But Osha Neumann of the East Bay Community Law Center said at least one person left Pathways for a tent in a homeless encampment. Neumann said that COVID-19 outreach to those living in tents along Berkeley’s highways was “minimal.”

While Russell would not specify how many clients were forced to leave Pathways, he said the number was lower than it would have been before the March 16 shelter-in-place order. A few weeks ago he told Berkeleyside there were 35 people living there. Berkeley’s public health division sent out guidelines ordering every shelter to reduce the number of people sleeping there in order to practice social distancing. Shelters were ordered to better separate beds, either by space or by using plastic sheeting, and to step up disinfecting common areas.

The Pathways/STAIR Center followed those guidelines, had clients sleep head to toe, doubled janitorial cleaning to twice a day, and sprayed common areas with disinfectant every hour, said Russell. They also took the thermal temperature of people who returned from any outing. In addition, the facility took the temperatures of staff and clients once a day.

“We are extremely concerned about the potential of communicability in dorm living,” Russell said a few weeks ago.

The Pathways/STAIR Center has passed all checks by the health division, said Russell. Hopefully, the measures it put into place will mean that the person infected with the virus did not pass it on, he said.

Frances Dinkelspiel is co-founder and executive editor of Berkeleyside. Email: frances@berkeleyside.com.