Community group to be formed to address homelessness

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The Compassionate Sidewalks Plan, introduced by Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, will proceed with the creation of a group of community members to address the ongoing issues of homelessness.

Originally, the Compassionate Sidewalks Plan involved establishing both a subcommittee with four council members and a community group to analyze causes of homelessness, existing homeless programs and funding sources. At the council meeting Tuesday, Arreguin decided to move forward with only the community working group instead.

“Based on the concerns that have been raised regarding costs and staffing, I think it may be best to allow the community process to proceed, and then we can … form our own subcommittee to look at the ideas that have been put forward,” Arreguin said.

The community group will develop recommendations for the council for a number of issues in the city regarding homelessness, such as ways to improve services and create more housing opportunities.

Although the city currently spends about $8 million on homeless services, Berkeley has a homeless population of 824, according to a city report.

At the council’s special work session Tuesday, city staff members and Elaine de Coligny, executive director of EveryOne Home, an organization that conducts homeless counts, emphasized challenges that the community group should target, such as limited resources with staffing.

For instance, the city’s Housing and Community Services Department staff has decreased by 40 percent over the last five years, and its homeless outreach team has dwindled to one staff person, said Jane Micallef, director of Housing and Community Services, at the meeting.

Moreover, staff members highlighted the need for permanent housing and a more centralized system so the homeless do not have to go randomly from one agency to another without actually addressing their problems.

“The current system here in Berkeley and throughout the county is not a coordinated intake,” de Coligny said. “There’s a lot of randomness. There’s a lot of luck and a lot of bad luck.”

Council members raised concerns regarding how to help those who voluntarily live on the streets and how to provide more concrete data about the demographics of homelessness.

“Doing (a homeless count) once every four years is not enough, and we need to know more about the population we’re trying to serve,” said Councilmember Gordon Wozniak. “This problem is always talked about in vague sort of terms … it needs continuous attention.”

While supportive of this effort to address homelessness, Roland Peterson, executive director of the Telegraph Business Improvement District, believes the council should also consider how to address inappropriate street behavior as a separate issue.

According to Anthony Sanchez, legislative aide to Arreguin, council members will start identifying stakeholders interested in addressing homelessness over the next several weeks.

“We do have to become more efficient with what little we have,” said Councilmember Linda Maio

Daphne Chen is the lead city government reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @dchen_dc.