Health & Human Services

The Chill Factor

Like most cities with large homeless populations, Berkeley, California, has a problem with transients abandoning bags or shopping carts of their belongings on the streets. What's unusual about Berkeley is what city officials do with all that stuff: They freeze it.
by | February 2005

Like most cities with large homeless populations, Berkeley, California, has a problem with transients abandoning bags or shopping carts of their belongings on the streets. What's unusual about Berkeley is what city officials do with all that stuff: They freeze it.

Berkeley recently bought a 40-foot refrigerated container to chill such personal effects at between 0° and 6° Fahrenheit. The deep freeze is Berkeley's approach to a state law requiring cities to store lost property for up to 90 days. The city's logic? Food and medicines are often mixed in with blankets and other possessions, and freezing everything ensures that perishables will keep.

Berkeley paid $8,200 for the container, which is stored underneath a highway overpass; it costs another $3,000 a year to keep it running. Unclaimed goods are thrown out after 90 days. As part of a broader effort to deal with homeless people's belongings, Berkeley also is spending $50,000 on new storage lockers that homeless people can use to store property during the day.

Homeless advocates are conflicted about the program. Marci Jordan, executive director of the Berkeley Food and Housing Project, thinks that the city's focus on giving homeless people a place for their things is admirable but that the money would be better spent elsewhere. "We're spending money on lockers but taking away meal programs," Jordan says. "If I asked my clients would you rather have a locker for 90 days or hot meals for a week, I'm pretty sure they'd want the food."

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