By Devin Fehely

BERKELEY (KPIX 5) — The Berkeley City Council voted to convert the old city hall building into a temporary emergency homeless shelter, and the decision has prompted mixed reactions from locals.

The city plans to begin the transformation of the building this coming winter. The building is an architectural gem that has housed Berkeley’s city government for decades.

The front face of Berkeley’s old city hall. (AP Photo/Lorin Eleni Gill)

But some homeless people are already sleeping on the front steps of the old city hall, hoping to get a spot in the soon-to-come emergency shelter.

One such person is Timothy Clement, a man who lost his job a year ago and found himself without a home.

“The shelters are fine. True enough. They need to be off the streets. It’s cold out here. But they need [to do] more,” said Clement.

Clement applauds the city’s decision to convert city hall into a shelter, but he also thinks the city can–and should–do more to alleviate homelessness.

Berkeley will pay $60,000 to operate the shelter for up to 45 days during the upcoming winter, focusing on helping people suffering from the impending rain or the sub-40 degree temperatures.

Some Berkeley residents have qualms with the decision; they question if the shelter is truly the best long-term use for the building.

“It’s a prime piece of property. And if you’re only housing a few short-term people, that might not be the best use,” said Simon Aoyama.

“There may be a lot better uses. Maybe they should build around it, build other housing or below-market units.”

Beyond using the building as a temporary shelter for the homeless, there are no long-term plans for the old city hall. One of the challenges is that the building needs to be seismically retrofitted at some point in the future.


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