City plans to streamline housing application process for homeless

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Michael Drummond/Senior Staff

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After a research inquiry by city officials, efforts are underway to simplify the bureaucratic processes Berkeley’s homeless residents face when applying for housing.

City officials – with the help of two consulting firms, Focus Strategies and Aspire Consulting LLC – designed a plan to consolidate the city’s many homeless aid organizations into a centralized system, called the Coordinated Access System. The system will be implemented in line with a federal requirement as part of the 2009 HEARTH Act, a bill to reduce homelessness.

The system will triage applicants and direct them to services best suited to their needs. The plan also called for the creation of a designated Housing Crisis Resolution Center, which, in addition to helping those with no place to go, will aim to prevent people on the brink of homelessness from actually losing their homes.

A 22-year-old homeless man who goes by the name Ninja Kitty said he applied to most of Berkeley’s housing nonprofits and has advocated a central intake system such as the one proposed. By putting the programs all under one roof, he said, the city would save money.

“It would be a lot more convenient if there was a centralized location where you could go to get all your needs met, rather than jumping around from one side of town to the other,” Ninja Kitty said.

According to a city report, more than half of homeless Berkeley residents are served by multiple agencies and nonprofits at the same time, resulting in systemic backlog and frustration for clients. The proposed system, by diverting applicants to the appropriate organization for their needs, aims to reduce some of what Ninja Kitty called “bureaucratic waiting.”

Mark Shotwell, the program director for Bonita House Inc.’s Homeless Outreach and Stabilization Team, said much of what determines a homeless person’s chances of obtaining the best services for him or her simply depends on which agency they find first.

“There could be another organization funded by the city that could be a few blocks away that was better set to provide housing and support services to (a homeless person),” Shotwell said. “But without a centralized gateway, it’s really up to the individual to show up at the right place.”

Berkeley City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, who also contributes to a task force on homelessness, said the plan was a good first step toward more effectively helping residents in need.

“Moving towards a coordinated assessment is not only what the federal government wants us to do, but it will help ensure that people aren’t just ping-ponged around (and) that they get continual care,” he said.

According to city spokesperson Matthai Chakko, the new system and crisis center will be funded through existing homeless services funding.

City Council is set to discuss the report at a special meeting scheduled for Tuesday.

G. Haley Massara covers city news. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @BylineGraph.

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  • slumjack

    Unfortunately, we’ve been seeing a same kind of fairly opaque, euphemizing cloud of words, terms, concept for, literally, *years* on end. This can “sound” good and substantive (like the much bandied about so-called “services”), but what happens if we merely translate the same “news” into clearer, more accurate forms?

    The article above advises us that the city is funding mutiple “agiencies” and “programs” and this “centralizing” plan means to funnel all potential clients through a singular channel, but also then “triage”, assess and direct applicants to ostensibly “most correct” available agencies/programs. This very well may result in less overall churn, repeated and wasted attempts by those in need. But that much doesn’t necessarily *also* mean that anyone will get more or better manifest “help” — which the article seems short of more explicitly revealing, possibly because all the sources may be seasoned at sidestepping that part.

    Yes, there IS some real redunancy among and across such “agencies” and “programs”. After all, “housing” is… well, housing. We haven’t seen much by way of significant changes nor improvements in what this term is referring to in fact. What do all these “agencies” and “programs” ACTUALLY DO? Most “refer people to housing”. “Refer”. In other words while we now have several “nonprofits” providing the “service” of pointing people to Yet Elsewhere (e.g. apartment houses) the touted “improvement” mainly says that a “central” city dept will select WHICH one to send a person, instead of their trudging around town only to eventually discover that so many different outfits are ALL mostly just sending people elsewhere, rather than arranging or providing anything else.

    And THIS is in response to a federal requirement from 2009 – 6 years ago? “Progress”.

    While we see the tips of the “bureaucratic” iceberg mentioned, indicating more $pending on city “studies”, yet more city “staff”, TWO “consulting firms”, etc. what’s missing is that there’s ANY such spending on… MORE HOUSING. That must mean that there isn’t any, because surely they’d be loudly blowing such a horn, if there were.

    Where can we find a line item tally and “budget” for all this $pending by and on The Bureaucracy? What are the chances that the bureaucrats spending for and to and upon other bureaucrats IS being characterized as “help the homeless” when it comes to accounting for federal, state an local money earmarked for that purpose? This has been the consistent game for a long, long time. Some of the actual purposes “help the homeless” funding that has been garnered in that name have turned out to be even for direct opposite efforts — activities that hamper, harass and hurt the homeless.

    Does ANY of all this “agency” and “program” furniture rearranging in any way change the continuing pragmatic reality that there ISN’T ANY more housing available. Or that the “services” of getting a person’s name on a “waiting list” known to take, say, 2 to 5 years is any “better” than simply doing that?

    Maybe it all “sounds good” when expressed just so. And manifestly good for the city employees and the employees of nonprofits and a couple of “consulting firms” to make *their* living and pay their mortgage/rent. What are the projections for how many more actual homeless persons to manifestly get housed when?

    I mean after spending our (how much, exactly?) money on consulting firms and various existing staffs to figure out that a central “referring” point could be better than people having to bounce around among several places all doing same or similar things to find out… and requiring spending on those two additional consulting agencies in order to nail such a tricky idea… there must be something like reports and plans, huh?

    Where are these available?