BERKELEY – It is the city of Berkeley’s only youth homeless shelter and its future is in jeopardy.
The YEAH! Shelter (pronounced “yay”) is run by Covenant House California. The nonprofit has millions of dollars allocated to purchase a new space to shelter it’s youth in Berkeley, but each time the CEO finds an adequate space, YEAH! is either outbid or unwelcome in the neighborhood.
“I believe that without the YEAH! I wouldn’t be me today,” Montel Ward told KPIX.
Ward stayed at YEAH! In Berkeley a few years ago, he says it saved him from a life out on the street.
“I don’t know where I would be. That’s how integral YEAH! is to my growth. I was sent there on purpose,” Ward said.
“We’ve been looking for an alternative space in Berkeley for over two years now,” President and CEO of Covenant House California Bill Bedrosian said.
Since 2001, YEAH! has been operating out of the Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. It has never been a permanent option. Anyone sleeping at the facility has to be out by 8 a.m. and generally isn’t allowed in until after 8 o’clock at night.
Bedrosian admits the church space isn’t ideal, but finding an alternative hasn’t been easy.
“We’re always up against businesses or people with deeper pockets than we have,” he said.
At community meetings for proposed locations, neighbors regularly shouted down Bedrosian and other members of Covenant House saying the neighborhood wasn’t the right place for the youth due to high crime nearby. Others said they didn’t feel included in the process, or would prefer the youth be placed in the Berkeley Hills.
“We are at a place where we are looking again with no prospects of where we can go,” Bedrosian said.
Pastor Cary Bass-Deschenes with the Lutheran Church of the Cross says he’s disappointed to see community push back. He says the church will never kick out YEAH! out, but he’s been asking them to find a better alternative with more space for several years now.
“We’re not kicking them out, you know? As long as they don’t have a place to go, they’re welcome to be here. So it’s like being in a relationship and breaking up, but breaking up amicably,” Bass-Deschenes said.
If you were to ask the twenty somethings who have stayed at the shelter, they think the adults are over-complicating things.
““If you’re pretending to care so much the thing to do is actually do something,” said shelter resident Jake Gleysteen said.
“It’s that simple,” Ward adds.
Both Ward and Gleysteen started out on the street with mental health issues and basic needs not being met. Now they’re both housed, working and able to be 20 somethings who don’t have life figured out just yet.
“It’s not like I spent one night there and then like everything was fine and I have a job and stuff. It wasn’t that quick,” said Gleysteen. Still, thanks to YEAH!, he’s able to try to figure things out.
“Not to say I really know what I’m doing with my life. Having a place to stay gives me some of the security to find out,” Gleysteen said.
Bedrosian says the backup option is one proposed by Governor Newsom. A few weeks ago the Governor announced that the state will house up to 70 homeless people in FEMA trailers in Oakland.
If the nonprofit can’t find a new space in Berkeley soon, some youth will likely be staying in those trailers. But they’re hoping they won’t have to.