Located in West Berkeley, the WDDC is the first daytime program for women and children in Berkeley. During the summer of 1987, Berkeley was grappling with the enormous problems of homelessness in the community. The prior spring, the City Manager had proposed a rotating shelter plan which would utilize different recreation centers and school gymnasiums in the city to house the homeless at night. Since little public input was obtained prior to the implementation of this plan, the reaction of the various neighborhoods was strongly against the rotating recreation center plan. The uproar was so strong that the City of Berkeley formed a Homeless Facilities Task Force to determine what the most appropriate site for homeless shelter would be.
This Homeless Facilities Task Force developed a comprehensive plan for dealing with homelessness, which included 36 recommendations for implementation. The Berkeley City Council accepted the report and called for City staff to implement the recommendations as feasible. One priority area of the plan dealt with the needs of families—women and children who were homeless, recommending there be programs that would see to their needs for shelter, food and support services.
At the same time as the Homeless Task Force was discussing site possibilities for shelters, two other City Commissioners were also discussing homelessness and its impact on women and children. The Commission on the Status of Women, at the suggestion of Estelle Jelinek and the Human Relations and Welfare Commission, at the behest of Mary Rubach, organized a joint meeting at a public hearing to discuss these needs. This meeting was attended by women from churches, the Homeless Task Force, agencies, the sponsoring commissions and women from the community. From this beginning in the Fall of 1987, it was decided that the City needed to provide day services of some type for women and children. All of the evening shelters were closed during the day at that time.
Under the leadership of a core group of women, including Mary Rubach, Estelle Jelinek, Deveara Allen, Kim Rosa, Louise Gourdine and Judy Holland, a two week program was set up during the Christmas vacation. School Board member Elizabeth Shaunessy provided access to a school classroom. Volunteers offered coffee, snacks and a warm, safe place for homeless women and children during those two weeks.
When school resumed, the group searched for a location. A contact of Mary Rubach’s informed her of the 2218 Acton site. After much negotiation, the Commonarts Board approved the “emergency use” of 2218 Acton for a day program for homeless women and children. Volunteers would staff the center four days a week.
From the core group of 20 women, led by a steering committee of five members, the WDDC developed an organizational model that utilized volunteer efforts for all activities. Though WDDC’s program expansions have grown to require part –time paid professionals, the bulk of WDDC’s daily operations are performed by volunteers.
Today the WDDC is made up of 12 full-time and part-time staff and several volunteers. The WDDC has evolved from its original mission of providing emergency and crisis response to a program of on-going support services. WDDC serves an average of 150 women and children each month in a nurturing, home like environment.