Rising rent may push out Berkeley homeless youth shelter

BERKELEY, Calif. (KGO) -- A homeless youth shelter in Berkeley, known as 'YEAH!', is currently looking for a new space after their leasing contract ended at Lutheran Church of the Cross.

The church is located off University Avenue. During the day, the church holds it's regular events and 12-step programs. By night, the church houses young adults ranging in ages 18-24 years old that need a place to sleep, eat and shower.

Lead Pastor of the church, Carry Bass-Deschenes, says the church originally founded the homeless youth shelter in 2003.

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"Our church saw the need for a place for people of a certain age group to sleep, namely 18-24 years-old. Because they were going into other shelters and that's a particularly vulnerable population. We might think of them as adults but their brains are still elastic," Bass- Deschenes said.

In the past four and a half years, Bass-Deschenes said the shelter became a year-round shelter rather than a winter shelter. Covenant House, a nonprofit that runs YEAH! (pronounced "yay"), acquired the shelter in 2018.

"Ever since Covenant House took them over they started stabilizing them, helping them find jobs, helping them get into schools," Bass-Deschenes said, but ultimately they need a more dedicated space.

"For years they've been sleeping on mats in one of our rooms because we can't give them the dedicated space because our church as a number of other renters, we have a lot of 12-step programs, we feed the food insecure five nights a week," Bass-Deschenes said.

He would like these young adults to have cots rather than mats, and a dedicated space to put their belongings rather than having to take it all with them.

Contract negotiations are underway between the church and the shelter, but rising rent and the need for a more dedicated space may push the shelter out of Berkeley and somewhere else in Alameda County. Bass-Deschenes hopes that doesn't happen and YEAH! could find a location in Berkeley.

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"They need a bigger space and a more dedicated space too and they need it in Berkeley. There's opportunities for them in Berkeley, and you know their lives have been in Berkeley and there's no reason to move them off to Oakland or Castro Valley or any other places in Alameda County," Bass-Deschenes said.

Bass-Deschenes said Covenant House has been looking for a new space for the past year, well before their contract ended in December. And the church has not put a deadline on when they need to be out by.

"As long as they don't have a place to go, they're certainly welcome to stay with us. It's just not an ideal situation," Bass-Deschenes said.

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