Oakland’s homeless population had cause to worry when the Oakland Army Base’s Winter Shelter finally closed for good, especially in the wake of a recent Bay Area cold snap that claimed a number of homeless victims. Questions arose about the ability of an emergency shelter to provide for those who would have sought refuge at the army base’s shelter. But even as the city experiences all time low temperatures, the city-designated emergency shelter may actually be an improved resource for struggling homeless people in Oakland.
That’s the hope, according to Jamie Almanza, executive director of the non-profit Bay Area Community Services (BACS), who says the move from the army base to the Henry Robinson Multi Service Center has thus far been “positive.” Almanza says the army base shelter’s location required busing people from Oakland and Berkeley, which often proved difficult. The emergency shelter’s location on 16th Street in downtown Oakland will provide greater accessibility for those struggling through the cold weather.
The army base winter shelter had been a joint-shelter run by the cities of Oakland and Berkeley in an industrial area of West Oakland. Its 12-year existence came to an end in 2012, according to Susan Shelton, a manager at the City of Oakland Department of Housing services, and the base is now being developed in a major city project. The building that formerly housed the shelter is set to be demolished. The City of Berkeley has in turn responded to the closing of the army base by relocating funds to four of its local shelters.
The emergency shelter at the Henry Robinson center has 50 beds for single men and women, half of what the joint shelter had (though the emergency shelter is not a joint venture as the army base was, and is directed towards Oakland residents). According to Shelton, the Henry Robinson center was recommended by a task force appointed by Mayor Quan and was chosen because of its “accessibility and proximity to mainstream services.” The city also allocated $168,161 to the emergency shelter.
But the transition of facilities to the Henry Robinson center was also due to its particular approach to the problem of homelessness itself as it exists in Oakland. Jamie Almanza says BACS, which runs the emergency shelter, provides interim housing for the “chronically homeless” for a period of 4-18 months. During this time the shelter also provides services to help those housed gain independent living skills and seek counseling and rehabilitation where it is needed. Some of the other services offered include helping homeless individuals gain their driver’s licenses and health care. The purpose of the interim housing, Almanza says, is to help the homeless secure permanent housing and ensure they can move into “stable, secure, and adequate housing” when they are prepared to leave the program.
Almanza also said the shelter has prepared for the recent cold snap by partnering with St. Vincent de Paul, whose shelter absorbs the spillover when the Henry Robinson center is crowded beyond capacity. She also noted that, while the shelter has been adequately funded by the city, there is still a need for donations of men’s clothes, socks, towels, and other items.