County’s homeless single adult population rises

Mike Harris, who has been homeless for six years, plays music on a boombox while panhandling outside of Durant Food Court.
Anna Vinget/Senior Staff
Mike Harris, who has been homeless for six years, plays music on a boombox while panhandling outside of Durant Food Court.

While Alameda County has made great strides in preventing and reducing homelessness among families, veterans and the mentally ill, the number of homeless single adults has swelled since 2009, according to the results of a biennial census released last month.

Conducted in January — by EveryOne Home, a nonprofit organization that coordinates the efforts of the county’s homeless agencies — the census shows little significant change in the absolute number of homeless individuals in the county. According to census findings, single adults now comprise 73 percent of the county’s total homeless population.

(View a photo gallery of Berkeley’s homeless.

Since 2009, the number of people living in homeless families fell by 28 percent, the mentally ill homeless population dropped by 19 percent and the number of homeless veterans declined by 13 percent.

However, because the population of homeless single adult individuals rose by 10 percent, the county’s entire homeless population was reduced by an insignificant 3.8 percent.

These exigencies may be due to shifts in focus — and funding — at the federal, state and local levels.

“The federal plan … expanded to really focus on family, children and youth and veterans’ homelessness,” said Elaine deColigny, executive director of EveryOne Home. “That has meant that some of the new resources have been focused on those subpopulations of the homeless.”

Unlike the Bush administration, which had no federal plan to accomplish its ambitious goal of eliminating the nation’s chronically homeless population — individuals who are disabled or have been homeless for at least a year — the Obama administration unveiled a strategy called Opening Doors, which specifically targets homelessness among children, families and veterans in addition to individuals, said Eduardo Cabrera, a regional coordinator for the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.

“Certainly having a federal focus on (these groups) affects how communities prioritize their response — and it should,” he said, adding that the council is in the process of more formally requesting that local jurisdictions align their own anti-homelessness strategies with the federal plan.

Alameda County’s progress in family homelessness prevention and reduction is an anomaly in national and state statistics showing upticks in family homelessness and downturns among individuals, according to Cabrera.

County resources have increasingly focused on homelessness prevention and the provision of permanent housing rather than emergency or temporary shelters, which has played a key role in the results of the 2011 census, deColigny said.

Cabrera agreed that the role of permanent housing programs cannot be underestimated, particularly for the chronically homeless who require services that are difficult to deliver in a shelter or street environment.

“Housing should be the first response to a person’s homelessness,” he said.

Veterans’ homelessness has also been specifically targeted at the federal level, with U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki making it his personal goal to end it by 2015, deColigny said.

State and county resources have also increasingly focused on providing services to the mentally ill homeless.

Since 2009, the county’s Behavioral Health Care Services has provided more than $4 million annually for short- and long-term housing financial assistance using state Mental Health Services Act funds for homeless and at-risk people living with severe mental illness, according to EveryOne Home.

Indeed, Berkeley-based Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency, a major provider of county homeless services, receives nearly half its funding from the county’s Behavioral Health Care Services, said Robert Barrer, assistant director of the organization.

This funding focus has been accompanied by cuts in General Assistance spending, which is meant to support the county’s adults and emancipated minors without income. The cuts favor youth, the permanently disabled, the elderly and those already receiving housing and financial assistance. DeColigny said that in the meantime, help for those assessed to be fit for employment has fallen by the wayside.

While men comprised 75.5 percent of the homeless population in 2009, they grew to 79.5 percent in 2011.

“There are fewer resources targeted to this growing population of  unsheltered males who don’t have minor children with them, and disproportionately the recession has affected the lower-income and less educated,” deColigny said. “This group has been hanging on by their fingernails.”

Noor Al-Samarrai is the lead communities reporter.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the census conducted is biannual when it is in fact biennial. The Daily Californian regrets the error.

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  • Anonymous

    Where does that “homeless” guy get the money to buy batteries for his boombox?  Obviously he has plenty of disposable income and enjoys scamming people.

  • Anonymous

    The 12-Step religious cult’s 24/7 Drug & Alcohol Witch Hunts on the homeless are costing taxpayers BILLION$, DESTROYING LIVES, and MAKING THE POVERTY PIMPS richer beyond belief!

  • Anonymous

    The VA & its Poverty Pimps label any alcohol use as Substance Abuse & Alcoholism….NO MATTER WHAT!

    A 70 year old homeless veteran who likes to go to the ballgames on the weekend and have a beer WILL BE THROWN OUT OF THE SHELTERS for SUBSTANCE ABUSE/STREET-GUTTER ALCOHOLISM for that one beer!

  • Anonymous

    If any of you housed people had a beer last night and went homeless today (for whatever reason) you having that beer last night WOULD GET YOU LABELED, by the Poverty Pimps,  AS A SUBSTANCE ABUSER & ALCOHOLIC, NEEDING LIFETIME TREATMENT!

  • Anonymous

    I am not going to get into the complex problem of homelessness, or the many factors that can lead to it.What I would like to discuss is your choice for the “face” of homelessness on the cover of your paper today.I don’t know how much you researched your subject, but from my dealings with him and the stories I’ve heard I couldn’t think of a worse choice.I know several of the homeless by name and am on good terms with them-they don’t like this guy.He has been overheard recently talking about how he was finally getting his SSI and how happy he was to not have to deal with these damn students anymore.I walked past him today and he hwas talking on his cellphone and had a copy of the paper next to his boombox.This guy is a sam andword on the street is he has a place to live in Oakland.Think about that the next time you’re trying to help-there are many folks that are obviously mentally ill or severe alcoholics-this guy isn’t one of them.One more note to all you folks arriving in Berkeley from places that may not have this kind of problem-none of these people are going hungry-they can get 3 meals a day through several organizations-often delivered.

  • Guest

    “Housing should be the first response to a person’s homelessness”
    Doubtful.  An alcoholic indoors is just as irresponsible and disruptive as an alcoholic outdoors.

    • Ed Cabrera

      There’s no service/treatment that can’t be delivered effectively after a person is housed.  It’s called permanent supportive housing.  The alternative is having people still homeless and addicted and cycling through expensive public systems.  How expensive?  See this piece in today’s SF Examiner.

      • [There’s no service/treatment that can’t be delivered effectively after a person is housed. ]

        “Service/treatment” is only “effective” if the subject of that treatment WANTS to be treated in the first place. In the case of the particular species of druggie/alkie that finds himself/herself on the streets of your typical “progressive” enclave (SF, Berkeley, Santa Cruz, et. al.) those people are simply there because the locals have enabled their lifestyle due to free handouts as well as impeding the job of local law enforcement do to their work. Substance abusers on the street have shown time and time again that they will give up housing, sanitation and “treatment” in pursuit of their lifestyle if they suffer no penalty in the process. If you want people off the street, stop enabling their homeless way of life…

        • Ed Cabrera

          Once in permanent supportive housing, 8 out of 10 retain it, typically, and most accept treatment once housed.  This isn’t enabling, it’s solving.

          As for homelessness being a way of life…  no one ever aspires to be homeless.

          And lastly, would you want to do homelessness sober?  I know I wouldn’t.

          • Johndecker8888

            [As for homelessness being a way of life…  no one ever aspires to be homeless.]

            Tell that to the kiddies from CoCo who commute on BART to their gutter-punk perches on Telegraph and Bancroft.

          • Ed Cabrera

            Really?  And you know this because you’ve taking the time to talk to them and they’ve shared their stories with you, no doubt.

            The facts are that the primary reason youth consistently state for their homelessness when we talk to them is family conflict, which includes fights with parents or caregivers, parental rejection, as well as neglect and/or abuse by a parent, caregiver, or other individual with access to the home.

            In other words these ‘punks’ have been punked themselves by those they trusted the most.

          • Yes, many of these people “shared their stories” with me when I was a Cal student in the 1990’s, and the vast majority of them were outright liars and scammers. Example: the self-proclaimed “Vietnam Vet” wearing US Navy petty officer stripes on an Air Force field jacket with Desert One camo pants. Another example: the “homeless” kid who would ride in on BART from Orinda about 11 AM so he could hold down the PM shift at his designated beggar’s post. Or the “blind” guys who never tapped their canes, talked to each other as they walked around, and managed to instinctively know where every pay telephone and newspaper vending machine was located, so they could check the slots for loose coins. Berkeley is full of these con artists, and dumb bunnies like you feel oh so sorry for them. Unbelievable…

          • Guest

            “Once in permanent supportive housing, 8 out of 10 retain it”
            Is this documented somewhere?  And is the sample size large enough to be significant?  How many of them recover well enough to pay for their own housing?  This statement seems to contradict a lot of accumulated data about alcoholics.

          • Anonymous

            Who pays for their own housing? All the Housing Loan Companies, Banks, Loan Modifications, Fanny & Fredie, AIG…….. GOT BAILED OUT; and that doesn’t include housing built with senior, children, disabled, veteran HOUSING TAX CREDITS & GRANTS…..and the people who walked away from their mortgages into another government paid housing scam.,..

      • Guest

        Is this what you’re calling “service/treatment”?:

        … they can live in a safe place off the streets, receive three meals a
        day, and receive medical treatment. Tenants are allowed to continue
        their alcohol and drug intake, and in some cases staff even provides
        alcohol to the tenants

        • Ed Cabrera

          No. I linked to the Examiner piece earlier to demonstrate the cost taxpayers incur when nothing is done to solve  homelessness.  The program you’re referring to is just one option – and that’s only for the most severe/chronic cases.  There’s no one-size fits all.

        • Ed Cabrera

          No. I linked to the Examiner piece earlier to demonstrate the cost taxpayers incur when nothing is done to solve  homelessness.  The program you’re referring to is just one option – and that’s only for the most severe/chronic cases.  There’s no one-size fits all.

  • Stan De San Diego

    How’s that “Hope and Change” coming along, you mindless Obama supporters? The mainstream media that continually hyped the homeless problem every time a Republican was in office has for the most part been silent over the last 3 years as this country has experience record unemployment and increased homelessness. Who you going to blame it on now?

  • Anonymous

    After the recent incident people think the only place an American in USA can be guaranteed appropriate medical care (at the top of the list/front of the line) is in prison but good alernative for now is “Penny Health” check it out

    • Stan De San Diego