City plans to streamline housing application process for homeless

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.