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Improvise, adapt, overcome - the Dorothy Day way

At Dorothy Day House, we believe that poverty hurts everyone. For over thirty years, we have served free meals to our community 7 days a week – and we have not closed our doors for a single day of the COVID-19 crisis, ensuring that no member of the unhoused Berkeley community has to go hungry.

A regular volunteer assists with serving breakfast at Dorothy Day House

“The wealth inequality began as a crack and has gradually evolved into a chasm,” says David Stegman, Executive Director of Dorothy Day House, “And it’s not just wealth, but those with lower wages face increased mental health and stress burdens with their jobs as a result of the COVID crisis – if they still have them.”

Prior to COVID – and in the last 3 decades, Dorothy Day House has predominantly been known for its regular hot meals. After settling into the Veteran’s Memorial Building in 2018, our little grassroots organization began to grow exponentially – adding on a comprehensive one-stop-shop with the combined services of our Berkeley Community Resource Center, Dorothy Day House Shelter, and Berkeley Emergency Storm Shelter.

Dorothy Day House Shelter (DDHS) came about in 2018, when we moved into the Veteran’s Memorial Building. Our Dorothy Day Shelter is unlike other shelters. Instead of policing our guests, we help restore their dignity by recognizing them as individuals with common needs, wants and goals. The Gateway Advocacy Program (GAP) is a subset of the Dorothy Day House Shelter that is focused on providing structure and guidance to for guests and staff who are interested in building a brighter future by achieving independence and financial security.

The lobby of the Berkeley Emergency Storm Shelter in Old City Hall

The Berkeley Emergency Storm Shelter (BESS) operates from November to April each year and allows unhoused members of the Berkeley Community to stay safe and warm during our colder months, when the temperature is below 40 degrees, or when it rains. Due to the extreme nature of the wildfire smoke and the heat, BESS opened on September 7th. The BESS is located at Old City Hall.

The Berkeley Community Resource Center (BCRC) is a subset of Dorothy Day that provides our guests and community access to showers, laundry, clothing, PPE, and long-term program-based assistance to ensure that we help our friends and neighbors get back on their feet – and stay there. Like the Dorothy Day Shelter, the BCRC is operated from our primary location in our primary location, in the basement of the Veteran’s Building. Currently, the BCRC provides Laundry, Showers, Meals, and Clothing services.

The substantial growth experienced over the last year was exponentially accelerated by the COVID-19 crisis. “We went from taking people inside – and initially, we needed to send them outside. It is not our ideal,” says Stegman, referring to the COVID-19 safety precautions that needed to be adopted in March. Due to downsizing the amount of people in the shelter to just 20 people, our impact initially took a hit.

“Our effectiveness was affected briefly, but here at Dorothy Day we are an organization that is constantly on the move,” Stegman says with a laugh, “We don’t give up easily.”

The Mobile Outreach Service Team truck out in the wild!

Instead, we created two innovative outreach programs in collaboration with our community partners – to ensure that no one in the community needs to go without basic resources such as PPE, groceries, socks, and hygiene products.

“Dorothy Day is taking all required safety measures seriously,” Stegman going on to explain, “Masks are mandatory inside of our building, and we have reduced our population by over 50%. Temperature checks are also required for remaining residents and staff.”

While Dorothy Day has not had to close our doors for a single day during this pandemic – we are not out of the woods yet. We anticipate that the double whammy of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis will exacerbate the existing flu season – which generally hits the unhoused population hard under usual circumstances.

“In late September, October, et cetera – we are going to be faced with rain, cold, and at the same time, the flu and COVID-19. There are many people who are homeless who have major respiratory problems, which is a recipe for disaster,” Stegman says.

“But our greatest strengths are our ingenuity – and our dedicated base of donors and volunteers,” Stegman continues, “Their kindness is the fuel for our organization.”

If you would like to get involved, or if you need help – please call 510-705-1325, or send us an email at

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