Homelessness is one of the critical issues facing Berkeley. Our street population has grown in the last two years, and there are even more “hidden” homeless who are not sleeping in our public spaces but have no permanent housing. An alarming fact is a large number of recent homeless were recently housed, victims of this out-of-control housing market. Every day I hear from Berkeley residents about the homeless problem. In addition a recent poll commissioned by the City found that homelessness was one of two top priorities for residents. Feelings range from sadness over the struggles of our fellow human beings, to frustration over the lack of progress to address the issue. However while we may feel helpless, we CAN help end homelessness.
While homelessness is a regional and national issue, linked to other broader social problems such as income inequality, our housing crisis, the bottoming out of our social safety net including mental health services - there are things we can do locally. I am committed to pursuing state and regional solutions to addressing homelessness including lobbying our state legislators to increase funds for housing, mental health and other homeless services, and working with officials throughout the region.
However given the strong concern about this issue I wanted to update you on my efforts to develop real solutions to address our homeless crisis.
In response to the community conversation started around 2012’s Measure S (banning sitting on sidewalks), I convened a Homeless Task Force to bring community leaders together to discuss the issue of homelessness and develop solutions. Our Task Force engaged hundreds of community members including faith leaders, service providers, homeless clients, students, professors, and city officials. We developed a set of recommendations to the City Council based on our research of best practices throughout the United States and specific solutions crafted to address the needs of our homeless population. We presented our Task Force recommendations to the Berkeley City Council in June 2015 and received strong interest and support from our Mayor and Councilmembers.
I am proud to say that we have implemented many of our short-term recommendations including establishing storage for the homeless, increasing access to public restrooms, expanding our Police crisis intervention training (now every officer has been trained), and allocating funds for 5 new mental health street outreach workers. We also need to coordinate with regional agencies, and we are working to open the restrooms in the Downtown Berkeley BART station.
Even during this economic recovery, increasing funding for homeless services remains difficult with a large number of demands for our city budget. However thanks to my advocacy we were able to stave off deep cuts to homeless services and expand services such as a year-round homeless youth shelter run by YEAH! at the Lutheran Church of the Cross. With large numbers of street youth who come to Berkeley during the summer months, expanding access to YEAH! will make a real difference.
I have also strongly supported the implementation of coordinated entry - which centralizes access to homeless services through one agency - the HUB. The primary goal of the hub is to make it easier for homeless clients to get access to housing and services, instead of ping-ponging from one agency to another. While our HUB has helped a number of chronically homeless residents, the biggest challenge is there is not enough housing at the other end of the system. This reinforces the critical point that the solution to homelessness is housing. The unprecedented housing crisis our community and region has hit the lowest income residents the hardest. We are seeing more families displaced and more people on our streets. I am deeply committed to tackling this housing crisis. That is why I have been an effective leader on the Council in creating housing opportunities. My leadership led to the creation of our Affordable Housing Mitigation Fee and my legislation started the process of developing an affordable housing/homeless housing development at the Berkeley Way city parking lot. More recently, I have been looking into the concept of Tiny Homes as a short term approach.
Lastly, we need to change the way we address homelessness. Berkeley has for decades focused on emergency solutions to homelessness. We need to invest in lasting preventative solutions like Housing First. We need to look at how we can better spend taxpayer resources to address this problem. That is why I led efforts to create an inter-city team on homelessness and to start the process of developing a Comprehensive Homeless Plan.
Of course we still have a long way to go to make significant progress in reducing homelessness, but we are working hard to develop a number of approaches. Our City has always shown we can rise to the challenge and develop compassionate, innovative solutions. I value your input and suggestions on how we can address homelessness.
IN THE NEWS
Updates on Alta Bates
In response to Sutter Health’s announcement that they intend of closing down Alta Bates hospital between 2018-2030, the City Council unanimously adopted a resolution opposing the closure. The resolution also calls on the City to identify ways to ensure that Berkeley and neighboring communities are adequately provided access to emergency rooms and acute care services. I have been working with the California Nurses Association, health activists, and local and regional leaders on what is one of the biggest issues this city faces.
The California Nurses Association will be hosting a town hall regarding the situation on Wednesday, September 21st at 4pm at the Ed Roberts Campus. More details on this meeting will be given in next month’s newsletter.
Urban Agriculture and Zero Net Energy Proposals Delayed
Back in June, I introduced two items around improving our city’s environmental policies that were scheduled to be voted on in July. The Urban Agriculture Package, which would have expanded the ability to grow food in urban areas, making it easier to provide, healthy, local food while promoting local businesses. The second item, Deep Green Building, would create incentives for zero net energy policies for new construction and retrofits. Both these items will help us achieve the bold goals set out by the Berkeley Climate Action Plan.
Unfortunately, the City Council decided to delay the vote on these important environmental issues. The items will be brought up in September, barring further delays. Thank you to the dozens of people who signed the petition to support a greener Berkeley. If you have not done so, please show your support for these items by signing the petition.
Center Street Garage Demolition Underway
If you have travelled to Downtown Berkeley recently, you may have noticed street detours around Center Street and Addison Street. The Center Street Parking Garage, which closed on June 30th, will be demolished over the next couple of weeks to make way for the new, larger, seismically safe garage. While additional on-street parking is being added on those streets, and other parking mitigations are in effect, people are encouraged to find alternative forms of transportation while the construction of the new garage takes place. The new garage is expected to open in August 2017. Click here for updates on the project.
AN OP-ED BY BERKELEY HIGH STUDENT ABBY STECKEL
In a four to five City Council decision on June 28, Youth Spirit Artworks (YSA) lost $40,000 of its proposed operating budget for the 2016-2017 Fiscal Year. The Berkeley nonprofit, which provides art and employment training for homeless and low income youth, had been allotted the money until the final revision of the city budget, when it was pulled and redistributed. This marked a major reduction in city support for the organization, which relied on the General Fund for approximately $84,000 of its $400,000 budget in the 2015-16 Fiscal Year.
Established in 2007, YSA provides year-round services to youth ages 15 to 25. Members receive monthly stipends for their participation in three program areas: fine art, art sales, and community art. The organization’s motto is “Art Saves Lives.” Council’s decision deals those lives a blow.
A recent federal mandate required cities to consolidate homeless services into a centralized location. This created the Hub, run by the Berkeley Food and Housing Project (BFHP), which is the new recipient of the funds. At first glance, the redistribution may seem of little consequence, as both are nonprofits that serve homeless youth. However, BFHP closes every morning at 8am, leaving youth with no place to go during the day.
YSA, on the other hand, is the only service provider in Berkeley that runs a youth day shelter. For four months last winter, the day shelter operated every day from 8:30am to 6:30pm, providing safety and warmth for 106 teens and young adults. YSA has been pledged a $50,000 matching grant to open its doors once again this year. If the city does not help the organization to match these funds, they hinder the availability of a valuable resource that there are no alternate plans to provide.
YSA offers more than temporary accommodations, however. The organization is exploring plans for a tiny house village for homeless youth, which would be the first of its kind in California. Moreover, the stipend each program participant receives supports their financial stability. The organization is planning to expand art sales, which will bring the stipend amount up to an estimated $400 per month, helping youth to become or remain housed in Berkeley.
The organization’s South Berkeley neighborhood contains seven murals and over 40 street barriers decorated by youth artists. YSA also has plans to cover its walls with murals and create a parklet across the street. These community artworks help to beautify the neighborhood and boost its economy by bringing in business. In fact, the area is already recognized as a destination for visitors. A 2014 New York Times article described a travel itinerary for 36 hours in Berkeley - YSA’s Alcatraz Avenue block was the only South Berkeley location featured.
All this is to say that from an economic standpoint, YSA is an invaluable investment for the city, returning every dollar it receives with interest. Still, above all, it is an investment in youth lives.
YSA emphasizes core values of building community and strengthening youth voices. Elected youth leaders meet to make decisions about projects, sales, and partnerships, and every Friday, youth and administrators dine together and conduct a community meeting. Besides cultivating interpersonal relationships, youth at YSA are encouraged towards personal growth by a case manager who helps each individual to set specific, achievable goals.
The budget cuts went into effect on July 1st, and YSA is already feeling their impact. Basic art materials are in short supply, and one employee is working reduced hours in order to retain the organization’s single case manager.
While the centralized services provided by BFHP are an important step in helping address the homeless crisis, funding both BFHP and YSA should not be mutually exclusive. The reality is that cutting funding for YSA is counterproductive, as the organization is essential to providing the comprehensive, holistic youth services that BFHP’s night shelter supplements. Perhaps the most important question in this situation is not which organization deserves the money but why the two should have to compete for it. The city should utilize the opportunity for YSA and BFHP to work together, rather than forcing them to fight for funding to help the youth of Berkeley.
National Night Out
Tuesday, August 2nd, 4pm-9pm
Join fellow neighbors in National Night Out, an annual event held in thousands of communities nationwide with the goal of strengthening the relationship and resiliency of neighborhoods. There are dozens of potlucks, barbeques, and meet and greets throughout Berkeley this year, with the Berkeley Police Department, Fire Department, and Public Works attending many of these gatherings. Below is a list of locations within District 4.
1700 Block of Walnut St, 6pm-7:30pm
Helios Center, 1500 Block of University Ave, 4pm-5pm
University Ave Coops, 1400 Block of Addison St, 6pm-7pm
2300 Block of Spaulding Ave, 5pm-7pm
2400 Block of Roosevelt Ave, 6pm-8:30pm
2100 Block of Sacramento St, 6:30pm-8:30pm
Downtown Berkeley Association, 2000 Block of Center St, 5:30pm-7:30pm
For a complete list of Berkeley locations, click here.
At this outdoor walking tour, the Ecology Center will present environmentally-friendly home and garden designs and suggest DIY projects. You will see a native raingarden, a constructed wetland, a laundry-to-landscape greywater system, and more. This event demonstrates how you can adapt your lifestyle to reduce your climate impact and help our city move towards Climate Action Plan goals. Pre registration is required. For more information, click here.
UPCOMING COUNCIL MEETINGS
The City Council is currently on summer recess. Meetings will resume on September 13th,2016.