Notes from December 12, 2015 Community Meeting

COMMUNITY MEETING ON HOMELESSNESS

FACILITATED BY DISTRICT 4 COUNCILMEMBER JESSE ARREGUIN

Saturday, December 12, 2015, 2:30 – 4:00pm

Staff Panelists Included: Eve Ahmed - Homeless Outreach Team, Shallon Allen - Neighborhood Services, Steve Grolnic McClurg - Mental Health Division Manager, Lt. Andrew Rateaver - Berkeley Police Department, and Tenli Yavneh - Mobile Crisis Team Manager

Minutes

The purpose of this meeting was for District 4 neighbors to hear from and discuss with staff how the City responds to the complex issue of homelessness, including outreach, social services including mental health treatment, encampments such as the one at Old City Hall, and illegal and threatening activity. Residents asked questions throughout (in bold) and generated several ideas that are summarized below.

Neighborhood Services, Homeless Outreach, and Mental Health staff on Process and Issues

Shallon Allen began by discussing how the City responds to encampments. Multiple departments intervene and talk directly with individuals illegally camping. They work with campers to access services and shelter, or to move on. They also provide multiple warnings stating that they cannot lodge on public property and provide resources including what shelter beds are available. Encampments tend to move around not disband, and most relocate to other parts of the city. Some individuals are interested in services. Regarding the recent encampment at Old City Hall, staff provided 4 notices and a total of 6 members from this group were assisted from beginning to end. Many campers that they encounter these days are not interested in services, or the services being offered. 

Shallon said that Eve Ahmed was the greatest resource we have. As the only paid homeless outreach staff, she gets to know campers, identifies their needs, assists them with moving their things, provides transportation, gets them on social security, and is very active in helping anyone that is willing connect to services. Eve said that she goes to where they reside, and respects their space as their home, asking permission to come in and talk with them about what is available. Eve works closely with shelters and drop-in centers, visiting them regularly to see what is and isn’t working. Regarding encampments, due to their complexity, they have a multi-departmental group working in tandem to address related issues.

  • How many being offered services are refusing them? Shallon responded that in broad terms, many chronic/transitional homeless in the Downtown area they have worked with are not interested in long-term housing, and are largely transient visiting cities up and down the coast. We use the word “homeless” but it actually represents a broad spectrum of conditions all of which end with people on the street – one approach will not apply to all. Some youth define themselves as “houseless” and are not interested in services; others are truly interested in housing.
  • What is the strategy for the houseless? Currently, the city through the Homeward Bound program can provide people bus tickets to send people home that are interested. The Hub (HCRC), a coordinated intake center, was mentioned. Beginning January 5th, it will provide one door in to needs assessment and will also allow for better data collection so we can figure out gaps in services.  Jesse then responded that continuing direct outreach like YEAH to understand what is needed, rethinking how we deliver services, and coordinating at the regional level all could be beneficial.

Steve Grolnic McClurg, Mental Health Division Manager, said people want services just not the ones we are offering, and some of the things they want are very expensive to provide. A resident responded that some are severely mentally ill and a distinction has to be made. Steven then mentioned two new state laws that may help those that are severely mentally ill and not accessing services for this reason. AB1421 allows a judge to direct someone to services, and Community Conservatorship allows someone to be conserved by a person that is given the legal right to make decisions and help them remain in the community.

  • What are we doing in the short term for emergency shelter? We have 110 year round and 71 seasonal beds, along with an emergency storm shelter run by Dorothy Day House for 65 people between Nov-April.
  • Has Berkeley looked into reaching out to churches or other spaces? Jesse responded no, and we should. Historically services have been to address immediate needs. As needs change our approach needs to as well.  He has mentioned to the City Manager how San Francisco is creating a Department on Homelessness and how we could similarly develop a city-wide interdepartmental team to handle all issues of homelessness, not just encampments. We need a more comprehensive look and to devise a plan to address homelessness in Berkeley.

Berkeley Police Department on Process and Perspective

Lt. Andrew Rateaver has 28 years of experience. He started as a beat cop, ran the bicycle unit and now is a watch commander, the person in charge of all police operations across Berkeley during his shifts. He agrees the term “homeless” is irrelevant due to the wide spectrum of people on our streets. To the police, home or not, their focus is on behavior. The two typical behavior problems they see are related to drug use and mental health. In 1979 the Mobile Crisis Team was started, a program unique to Berkeley that made clinicians available and on site with cops for whatever came up on a 24-hour basis. The budget has since then seen better times, and has been reduced, but if it were up to them it would again be 24/7.

The BPD has three ways to respond: talk them down from situation, document the incident and refer services, or make an arrest. Late at night when there are no clinicians, they cant just sent a cop when dealing with mental health issues; they need to send the right cop. The Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) has extra training for these instances, which will soon be extended to the entire force of 168 officers.

The police have a crime fighting responsibility as well, and it all takes time. In these instances they give the best service possible but also have to measure with other responsibilities. Behavior and mental illness problems (a broad definition including drug use, stress, starting fires, chronic and acute) are zapping their time, making up 40% of calls. They respond to every call, it just may take some time.

  • Are 172 officers enough and how does that compare to the past? We are down from 200 officers and the calls of service over time have stayed the same while the number of officers has decreased.
  • If 1 person is a problem, why do 7 cars pull up, which happened in my neighborhood last night? If someone is smashing in windows with bottles and threatening passerbys, which happened in the instance you mention, then it will take more than one car. Keeping everyone safe takes multiple people. This was a mental health issue, so the CIT car pulls up too. Because cars at the scene, their Supervisor has to be present to make sure all is well. The Shift Commander will also need to check in. And the remaining cars are usually just in the area and come by to see if assistance is needed.
  • Campers from the encampment said they couldn’t get back their stuff. What is the issue? Public Works loaded up stuff that people said they were leaving. If someone was booked and no one is around to claim their stuff, Eve helps them get it back. Tenli Yavneh said the policy is they store items under $100 for 14 days, and items more than $100 for 90 days.
  • Do you think there is sufficient notice as to where to retrieve possessions? Shallon said all items from the encampment were kept indefinitely and everyone knows that the city has items and where they are kept. It is common knowledge. Some stuff is thrown out if it has bed bugs and other vermin because it will contaminate other items. Residents spend $8-12 million on homeless services and it may be an issue of restructuring them. Staff have been dealing with these issues for decades, and it is a national problem. They have to grapple with residents that want all these services but don’t want it on their street. They also need to balance complaints of safety from residents. She could spend all her time on homeless issues but has other residents to help as well. Lt. Rateaver said all his people also know and provide this notification.
  • Seems totally inefficient to clear out an encampment to me, why wouldn’t the just come back? Lt. Rateaver said if someone is issued a citation, and they keep coming back they now are working with the District Attorney’s office to issue stay away orders, which if violated result in jail time.
  • Would beat cops know who has a citation or who doesn’t? Lt. Rateaver said his beat cops all know everyone on a first name basis.
  • Is phoning the non-emergency number the right thing to do? Lt. Rateaver said if behavior is escalating and getting unsafe, call BPD at 510-981-5900. If it is something else, call 311.
  • How successful is the Ambassador program and should we hire more? They represent the Downtown and Telegraph areas and are contracted by the Business Investment Districts not the city. Shallon said their presence in the downtown is why some move to parks. They don’t want to be asked over and over if they want services by multiple people.
  • Is there some type of enforcement for repeat offenders, especially those with mental health problems? Are attorneys using the Community Conservatorship Program? If mental health is a factor, they are treated for that issue first then they may be incarcerated. Steve said conservatorship just passed, and in Berkeley they are hoping to build up the treatment end. Without it you get assessment to nowhere. They are able to deescalate the situation, but it is no better because it just repeats. We need to invest resources into expanding the amount of treatment because it works.  The Transitional Outreach Team program will be implemented this year; everyone interacted with will get followed up with. As a county, working on conservatorship program.
  • Is Mobile Crisis Team funded? It is funded but only goes to 10pm, when expanded will go to 1 am all year. But unless we actually fund ongoing clinical treatment, we are not going to solve anything. We want to make sure we aren’t just funding crisis, but also services.

Suggestions

  • Think of suitable terminology that helps public understand the spectrum of homelessness
  • More data collection so we can pinpoint who is need of services and what gap of services there is
  • Reach out to churches and other large spaces for emergency storm shelter
  • Developing a more robust job corp that repairs city conditions while providing employment to those homeless interested
  • Have developers pay for more community benefits including the year round funding of YEAH youth shelter
  • Develop a coordinated donation program for food and goods as well as an awareness campaign to let people know how to help (Lt. Rateaver discussed how sometimes people try to help but add to the problem; food dropped off at Gilman that was not eaten attracted rats. Also, items left in ‘free’ boxes outside of homes might initially be picked up, but once someone realizes a jacket doesn’t fit or they cannot carry an item, it is left in a park. Needs to be a more coordinated effort.)
  • Consider a middle layer of public interface for mental health and other quality of life violations between non-emergency and emergency contacts
  • Do a macro-level analysis and develop a comprehensive plan to address homeless issues
  • Look into civic oriented crowd funding campaigns to fund projects between 5-20K

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