Two community organizations presented potential new projects Wednesday aimed at benefiting the city’s homeless population during a Berkeley Homeless Commission meeting.
Representatives from Berkeley’s mobile crisis team and housing and community services department gave updates on their latest initiatives, including extending shelter hours and establishing a new transitional outreach program.
The mobile crisis team provides emergency intervention services for Berkeley and Albany residents by sending professionals to respond to hotline calls regarding suicide, homicide, drug abuse and evaluations for psychiatric hospitalization. The program is prepared to intervene with any community member — including homeless individuals — dealing with a mental health crisis.
According to Tenli Yavneh, a program coordinator for adult services in the city’s mental health division — which runs the mobile crisis team — only about 12 percent of the past year’s calls were made for or by those who had been documented as homeless. The actual number may be higher, however, since team members do not always ask about someone’s residency in an emergency situation, Yavneh said.
As it continues to expand, the mobile crisis team hopes to establish a new unit, a transitional outreach program, which will follow up with clients several months after the initial intervention and connect them to other available community services.
The mobile crisis team also conducts training sessions for police and fire departments regarding mental health crises. Yavneh said the team maintains a “very productive” relationship with local police, who often accompany staff members when performing interventions.
“Mobile crisis does get brought up when we’re thinking about what to do with homeless people,” said Commissioner Elisa Della-Piana at the meeting. “But the presence of homeless people on the streets is not the normal call.”
Additionally at the meeting, the city’s Housing Crisis Resolution Center, or HCRC, announced possible changes to the Berkeley Homeless Coordinated Access System — a city program aimed to triage and offer support to homeless people — as a result of a new mandate from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The changes are an effort to help the program focus on aiding people who are unsheltered, or without access to a home, versus those who are couch surfing or living with a family member.
“We were spending a lot of money on people that weren’t literally homeless,” said HCRC staff member Jennifer Vasquez. “System (change) is primarily so we can streamline access with a standardized tool (and) best fit resources with the needs of people who are homeless.”
Vasquez said the center hopes to be a centralized location in the city where homeless people can go. HCRC will no longer have 30-day-maximum stays at its shelter. Instead, individuals will stay in the center until they find a home with the help of staff, Vasquez said.
“We know we have limited resources,” Vasquez said. “We need to do a better job of saying, ‘OK, you’re coming in with this set of issues, you are chronically homeless with multiple barriers. We have a shelter bed, are you interested?’”
There will be a community meeting Oct. 27 that will act as a “big roll-out” of informing the public on what the triage process will be and what resources will be available, as well as the start of staff training sessions at the agencies that are responsible for providing services.