Reopening of Halfway House Pending Following Report of Meth Lab

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City officials are waiting to hear if they can reopen a transitional house for the homeless after police uncovered a purported methamphetamine laboratory on the premises, to the concern of many neighbors.

On July 19, police arrested Berkeley resident Todd McColmb, 47, after searching the house, which is managed by Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency, a non-profit organization that seeks to help local homeless people transition to a self-sufficient life. McColmb still faces felony charges in connection with manufacturing a controlled substance.

In the residence, police found "various items that were consistent with a clandestine methamphetamine laboratory," according to a police report.

When police discovered the chemicals, they evacuated and closed the halfway house because many of the chemicals are toxic and combustible.

The house has been closed since then, and officials from the city manager's office are still in the process of determining if the toxic chemicals have been safely removed.

"Nobody will reoccupy the house until the cleanup is done, and then we'll figure out what we'll do next," said city spokesperson Mary Kay Clunies-Ross.

A contractor is assessing the extent of contamination in the house, she said.

Many have pointed to the lack of supervision at the house as a cause for concern.

"Your social worker should come every few days. That would have nipped this right in the bud," said Shemena Campbell, who also sends her child to the Nia House Learning Center, a preschool adjacent to the house. "It's hard to hide a meth lab in your bathroom."

The executive director of BOSS, boona cheema, said she is willing to place a supervisor at the home if it reopens in order to help mitigate resident concerns.

She said a supervisor would check in to make sure the house and its nine residents are acting appropriately.

The organization leases the house from the city for $1 per month and receives an additional $412,000 per year in city money, Clunies-Ross said.

Berkeley City Councilmember Darryl Moore said the council is waiting to hear from the city manager's office before it considers renewing the lease.

He said he would hold a community forum to hear from concerned residents and make sure the process was public before renting out the property.

"If they do decide to extend the lease I will demand that we have a public meeting to address the lack of supervision on the part of BOSS," he said.

Other residents said they were concerned that the house was near the preschool.

"Myself and a lot of parents support the work that BOSS does, but I don't know if it's appropriate land use next to a preschool," said Jennifer Kaufer, who sends her children to Nia House. "It seems like risky activities could be going on there."

Jessica Kwong of The Daily Californian contributed to this report.


Contact Matthew Peters at [email protected]

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