Youth Engagement Advocacy Housing (YEAH!), an emergency night shelter for youth ages 18 through 24, is currently situated in a space rented from the Lutheran Church of the Cross on University Avenue. However, its lease terminates on January 1, 2020, due to disagreements with the church.
According to YEAH!’s website, it offers a place to sleep at night, hot meals, counseling, and “linkages to education, employment, and housing.” Lately, the issue of its own housing is threatening the continuation of its services.
Jovaughn Tuplu, who has been doing accounting, repairs, and janitorial work at the church for one and a half years and has been a member of the congregation since 2010, explained what he believed the church’s reasons were for refusing to renew YEAH!’s yearly lease. According to Tuplu, YEAH! has brought drugs, robbery, and violence to the neighborhood. Tuplu said that youth staying the night at the shelter threatened people going to the church and even went so far as to rob them in the parking lot. “I’ve had to get physical with the youngsters myself because they try to bring drugs, knives, and guns to the shelter,” said Tuplu.
While Sahra Aalaei, a University of California (UC), Berkeley second year who volunteers at YEAH!, acknowledged the existence of crime, she said that the services YEAH! offers for homeless youth are crucial. She said that in her experience, the youth were calm and kind, sharing personal stories that allowed her to connect with them.
Many take advantage of the resources at YEAH!: working during the day, taking night classes at the community college, and coming to YEAH! for food as the last stop of their day. This frequent usage can have a serious impact on the space. Tuplu said that damage to the church was another reason for the relocation, and that the youth have caused over one hundred thousand dollars worth of damage to property. “The damage is endless,” he said. A neighboring shop owner, said that the youth vandalize his property and deter customers, even smashing his mirror on camera.
Aalaei said that for her, YEAH!’s case spoke of a wider issue with the community’s mindset. “People like the abstract concept of philanthropically helping the youth, but they don’t actually want to interact with or even see homelessness,” said Aalaei. YEAH! did not respond as of press time, so could not confirm the reasons for their relocation
At a city council meeting on September 24, the shelter proposed a move to 3404 King Street. Neighbors were quick to voice their resistance, arguing that the crime and drug ridden neighborhood was no place to drop at-risk youth trying to get off the streets.
Chris Hess, a resident who spoke at the meeting, criticized the city for its lack of consultation with the neighbors. Overall, speakers emphasized that their opposition was born not out of resistance against the homeless, but concern for the wellbeing of the youth.
YEAH!’s director Jarekhye Covarrubias argued at the meeting that its presence would bring a sense of community to the neighborhood
The council will convene for four more meetings before a vote on YEAH!’s future can take place.