The future is unclear for Youth Engagement Advocacy Housing (YEAH!), the city of Berkeley’s solitary youth homeless shelter. Currently located at 1744 University Avenue in the Lutheran Church of the Cross, the shelter may be forced to relocate due to increases in rent and diminished space of their one building.
YEAH! has been searching for a new home for over two years. A dedicated space would provide a stable environment accessible to the youth, and the shelter residents and church-goers would not disrupt each other. However, the search is becoming increasingly urgent as the church has begun leasing the shelter on a monthly contract rather than renewing the year-long lease at an increased price. Pastor Cary Bass-Deschenes said that this payment plan is more sustainable for the church. “The shelter has always been paying well below market rate for what they rent from us, and even the new rent would still be well below market rate. The church gets a lot of youths when the shelter is open and that means things break down. The increase in rent was to make it so that we can improve the property,” Bass-Deschenes said. The church has also begun to reclaim some of the space YEAH! has been using. Susan Halpern, a social worker on the board of YEAH!, stated, “We have been helping the church with our rent and some repairs and in return the church was very pleased to house us for many years, but recently relationships have become more strained and they have encouraged us to move elsewhere.”
YEAH!’s searches through the real estate market have not been particularly fruitful; when the organization discovered a seemingly perfect site last year in an alternate location, there was pushback from the neighborhood such that YEAH! could not claim the space. One possible solution came from California Governor Gavin Newsom in January 2020. Newsom announced that Oakland would receive 15 trailers owned by the state to house 70 homeless people, and that six of the trailers would be allocated to Covenant House, the non-profit organization running YEAH!. The organization will relocate to Covenant House some time in the next few months, where it will stay as a temporary solution until it can find a permanent home in Berkeley, where the youth and volunteers have their connections and communities.
Though the ultimate goal that the shelter has for its clients, aged 18-25, is to obtain permanent housing, YEAH! offers much more to the youth along the way than shelter. “We have over a hundred volunteers that help in a hundred different ways,” Halpern said, and their job is to “keep the youth safe.” On top of many tangible services, the shelter gives these youth — many of whom come from the foster care system — a support system, a community of caring adults and peers, and a place to call home for many nights and years.
Pastor Bass-Deschenes said, “The church still fully supports the shelter. We really believe in the work that the shelter was doing. The church wants to see the shelter thrive and the shelter is unable to thrive here at our location.” In response to the same question, Halpern stated, “The youth aren’t scary and they aren’t dangerous. They are people! People who just want what we all want … They have dreams just like everyone else. And our job is to help them move through these difficult years.”