Berkeley Task Force on Homelessness holds first meeting Thursday

Mary Zheng/Staff

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City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin led a Berkeley Task Force on Homelessness meeting Thursday evening to bring the community together to address homelessness in Berkeley.

About 50 people gathered at the YMCA Teen Center to attend the task force’s first meeting, a community conversational process that anyone can join and participate in at any time.

Arreguin initiated the task force after Measure S, which would have banned sitting on commercial sidewalks, nearly passed in Alameda County last fall.

“My thinking in starting the task force was we should try to establish a community discussion rather than putting forward divisive proposals like Measure S,” Arreguin said. “We currently spend $2.8 million in services for the homeless, but we still don’t have enough services.”

Elaine de Coligny, executive director of EveryOne Home, a countywide organization aiming to address homelessness, said the current rate of housing Berkeley’s homeless is in need of improvement.

“Right now, in Alameda County, we house about 44 chronically homeless people per month,” de Coligny said. “We want to just about double and house 80 people per month by October this year.”

Formerly homeless Berkeley residents shared their own experiences and concerns, including the absence of services for disabled homeless, the bureaucratic process of finding housing and the lack of government accountability, at the meeting.

De Coligny presented a coordinated assessment plan that is being implemented by EveryOne Home to unite the numerous homelessness services in the county to improve coordination among organizations.

“What we have right now is when you become homeless, you drop into the system and you just ricochet around, not really getting what you need,” de Coligny said. “We are trying to change that so we have a system where there is an assessment process that matches the consumer with the appropriate services.”

Pattie Wall, executive director of the Berkeley Homeless Action Center, presented the results of a recent survey given to the homeless in Berkeley. The results showed that of the 143 homeless people surveyed, 92 percent ranked housing as most desired, followed by shower and food availability.

Katrina Tomahawk — who was once homeless and is now a member of Youth Spirit Artworks, a job training program for homeless youth in the Bay Area — offered the perspective of the city’s homeless youth.

“What youth need in the city of Berkeley is a place to feel safe,”  Tomahawk said. “Safe isn’t just feeling like you’re not going to get stabbed tonight but also feeling safe in your own skin.”

Arreguin said the task force will work in committees to create a proposal including new ways to prevent and address homelessness. The proposal will be presented to the City Council next spring.

Contact Stephanie Petrillo at [email protected].