City Council to discuss rise in Berkeley’s homeless population

Rachael Garner/Senior Staff

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Berkeley City Council will meet Tuesday to discuss the results of a homeless point-in-time count, which indicate a 53 percent increase in Berkeley’s unsheltered homeless population since 2009.

The survey, organized by the nonprofit organization EveryOne Home and carried out Jan. 28, 2015, was similar to a count made in 2009, with the results — summarized in a report to go before the council — showing not only a 197-person increase in the city’s unsheltered homeless population but a 23 percent increase in the city’s homeless population overall, from 680 to 834 people.

Although the report does not include direct causes of the increase in Berkeley’s homeless population, it states that there is a lack of coordination among homeless services, which prevents the city from allocating its resources as effectively as possible, a sentiment shared by some City Council members.

“Different kinds of people need very different services,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington. “It needs to be personalized.”

In order to address this issue, earlier this month, the city launched The Hub, a centralized entry system that aims to help the unsheltered homeless population through more streamlined targeting of shelter and housing resources.

As indicated by the count and subsequent report, the city also hopes to improve its level of information about the issue of homelessness.

“Part of what we’re always trying to do is figure out what are better ways to achieve our goals,” said city spokesperson Matthai Chakko.

But some members of the homeless community still believe City Council has not done enough to improve its approach to the issue of homelessness. Late last year, members of Berkeley’s homeless community camped out in front of Old City Hall for several weeks in protest of the council’s approval of ordinances regulating the placement of personal belongings on sidewalks, among other street behaviors.

Guy Lee, an advocate for the homeless and a candidate for mayor of Berkeley, said that the city’s current approach is charity-based, which helps individuals in the short term but does little to solve problems in the long term.

Although the survey found that Berkeley’s overall homeless population has gone up since 2009, not all subsets of the homeless population have increased. The number of homeless veterans, for example, has decreased by 40 percent, according to the report.

After reviewing the report Tuesday, the council will next take steps to alleviate homelessness during budget discussions in June, according to Councilmember Jesse Arreguin.

“What this survey illustrates is that despite all that we do, there’s still a lot more that can be done,” Arreguin said. “This year is going to be a really critical moment for Berkeley in terms of how we can realign our services.”

Contact Maxwell Jenkins-Goetz at [email protected].