Berkeley Food and housing Project

by Lydia Gans

The Berkeley Food and Housing Project (BFHP), one of the East Bay’s major homeless programs, was founded in 1970, and does exactly what the name implies by providing food and housing for people in need.

The food part is relatively simple. BFHP workers provide sit-down meals or take-outs several days a week at two Berkeley locations. Their well-known Quarter Meal is provided free to all comers at Trinity United Methodist Church on 2362 Bancroft Way in Berkeley. Free lunches are offered to homeless women and children at their Women’s Shelter, located at 2140 Dwight Way.

The housing part is complicated and getting more so every day. It started way back in the mid-1980s with an overnight shelter where homeless people were admitted in by a specified time in the evening, and had to leave the shelter by 8:00 in the morning. A person could be sure of a bed up to some maximum number of days, usually 30 days.

At that time, when the relatively new societal problem of long-term homelessness was first being recognized, it was assumed that whatever problems caused homelessness could be solved in time to get them into permanent housing. Advice, housing referrals, and help, in the form of case management, was available.

The expectation back then was that if shelter residents wanted housing and they really hustled, they should be able to find something before their shelter stay was up, with help from BFHP staff. But with the economic crisis creating ever greater numbers of homeless people, and overwhelming the shelter system in the East Bay, things began to change.

According to BFHP Executive Director Terrie Light, service providers in Berkeley began to notice a steady increase in the number of people coming for food, beginning in 2007. “Some weeks were pretty alarming, ” she said. Meanwhile, Light added, “Some of our donations were shrinking and we saw people coming into the agency that were first-time homeless.”

This increase in the need for services “is an indicator that people are on the edge.” Being compelled to choose between paying the rent and buying food is causing more and more people to fall into homelessness.

“Every night now the shelters are full, ” Light said. “Zero vacancies. Emergency beds are full. We often put out cots — and then they get full.”

The overloading of the shelter capacity is occurring at the men’s shelter in the Veteran’s Building and also at the women’s shelter. Many homeless people are forced to sleep in their cars or on the street.

The overriding need of the clients coming to the BFHP is getting into affordable housing. Some people have lost their jobs or have reduced incomes. Most of the clients are not working. They are people on fixed incomes, seniors, and disabled or medically fragile people who are living on decreasing SSI benefits or entitlement programs for which funding is being cut.

At the same time as lifeline benefits are being cut, rents in the Bay Area are going up. As a result, a large proportion of BFHP’s resources are now devoted to finding affordable housing.

“We’re really focused now on helping people find housing.” Terrie Light said. “So we have housing specialists that actually go talk to landlords, drive people to apartments, help them fill out applications, and advocate with landlords for deals or work for part of their rent.”


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Q&A

avatar
Why don't government subsidies pay for food gardens to be grown at housing projects?

The failure of the public housing projects of the 1970's is a graphic illustration of the failure of socialism in the USA.
If there were gardens at public housing projects:
1. They would be vandalized constantly.
2. Anything that did grow there would be marijuana.
3. Then the marijuana plants would be vandalized.
4. Really, do you think people on welfare would ever do any work in a garden? Ever???