Homelessness is a humanitarian crisis that will not improve without innovative approaches.
As California housing prices continue to rise while wages stagnate, the number of people living on our streets has grown. Over the past 8 years, Berkeley has seen an increase of 43 percent in its homeless population, and currently has the highest per capita rate of homelessness in Alameda County. Alarmingly, more than a third of people who become homeless for the first time remain unhoused for one year or more, illustrating how difficult it is in our current economic climate to find a way out.
Homelessness is a complex social problem impacting everyone in our community. While it cannot be solved overnight, we can get more people off the streets and into housing
Pathways is an ambitious plan that gives the homeless immediate respite from the elements while connecting them to supportive services and permanent housing.
Based on national best practices, it includes a low-barrier 24/7 shelter, transitional housing for longer stays, rapid rehousing dollars to place homeless into housing, and a Homeward Bound program that reunites people with their families.
The objective of Pathways is straightforward: develop innovative ways to provide short-term shelter and ultimately permanent housing for our growing homeless population. This will relieve the pressure on city streets, parks, business districts and neighborhoods that are disproportionately impacted by the concentration of homeless, and provide a real chance for the homeless to move their lives forward.
Phase I: The STAIR Center
To start, the City of Berkeley has invested in a low-barrier shelter open 24 hours a day and with services such as mental health, substance addiction and job training on site. The project opened the first week of June 2018. Outreach teams visit encampments throughout Berkeley to connect the homeless to the facility, which will allow people to bring pets and live with partners and/or groups. Meals, storage and services are provided on-site. Case managers work with STAIR residents to qualify for housing, and align rapid rehousing resources to secure housing. Regionally, rapid re-housing efforts have been proven successful in providing housing to 60 percent of the targeted population within five months. As of July 1, 2019, 102 people have been housed through the STAIR Center.
The Mayor and City Council successfully raised $250,000 in private contributions and in-kind donations to provide the resources needed for rehousing people following their stay at the STAIR center. Year 1 funding was provided through general fund “excess equity”. Year 2 and 3 funding will come from State of California HEAP funding.
Phase II: 1000 Person Plan
An important component of the Pathways Plan was to create a long-term plan for providing shelter or housing for every homeless person in the City. City staff collaborated with graduate students from the Goldman School to create the report found here. While the amount, over time, is staggering it has provided a road map on how to achieve the City Council’s goal. Now it is the job of the City Council and City Staff to find the resources and work to make this goal a reality.
While the City of Berkeley has made its largest investment yet to address our homeless crisis, there is much more to do.
A tax-deductible fund managed by the City’s administration has been established to receive philanthropic donations specifically designated for the homeless. This is the quickest, least expensive, and most effective way to begin housing more of Berkeley’s homeless population.