Berkeley/Albany Mental Health Commission votes to increase funds for mental health services, homeless housing

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With the approval of its fiscal year 2017 fund allocations for its approximately $9 million budget, the Berkeley/Albany Mental Health Commission voted Thursday to redirect more money into mental health centers and permanent housing for the homeless.

The budget currently awaits approval by Berkeley City Council at its Jan. 24, 2017 meeting.

According to mental health staff, proposed additions to the upcoming fiscal year budget include a $150,000 increase in the funding of a wellness center for residents in need of mental health services as well as a transfer of more than $800,000 to renovate the Berkeley Mental Health Adult Services Clinic, which, according to its website, is currently closed because of a facilities issue.

Renovations are set to remake the clinic into a green, sustainable building, said Karen Klatt, Berkeley’s Mental Health Services Act coordinator. The commission will also increase funding by $10,000 to support the addition of seven permanent housing units for the homeless on McKinley Avenue.

The mental health commission — which consists of mental health consumers, their family members and other residents of Berkeley and Albany — currently hosts programs for both minors and adults, especially those who are homeless or at risk of being homeless.

According to Berkeley Mental Health manager Steven Grolnic-McClurg, although homeless housing is not an explicit responsibility of mental health services, the budget incorporates homeless-specific services because of an overlap between mental health consumers and the homeless population. Among Berkeley’s estimated homeless population of 800 to 1,200, roughly 40 percent require mental health services, Grolnic-McClurg said. The homeless in need of mental health services, however, constitute a relatively small portion of the overall population of mental health consumers in Berkeley, Grolnic-McClurg added.

Russell Bates, a resident who attended the hearing, said a homeless friend of his had recently died in front of McDonald’s. The city’s mental health commission might hopefully be able to help prevent such incidents in the future, Bates said, though he is unsure of what needs to be done.

“I wish I had an answer,” Bates said at the meeting.

According to commissioner Paul Kealoha-Blake, the commission is currently developing models on how to prevent future deaths in the homeless community.

“There are people dying on the streets, and we do not even know their names,” Kealoha-Blake said at the meeting. The least that we can do is to learn the names of people around us and who are neighbors.”

The commission identified demographic issues in the mental health service provision of Berkeley and Albany. Klatt said Pacific Islander and Latino groups are underserved. Additionally, although the mental health services serve a large number of Black people, it is uncertain whether or not the services are meeting their needs, Klatt said.

Contact Charlene Jin at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @CharleneJin0327.