City establishes new outreach team to provide services for mentally ill, homeless

Emilia Bulfone/Staff

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On Wednesday, the city of Berkeley announced a new Homeless Outreach and Treatment, or HOT, team, that will concentrate on reaching out to disabled homeless persons, particularly the mentally ill, and providing them with housing and resources.

The outreach team, which will be composed of five city of Berkeley Mental Health Division staff members, will identify homeless individuals with the most critical conditions, according to Paul Buddenhagen, director of the city’s Health, Housing and Community Services Department.

HOT’s goal is to ultimately provide more of these individuals long-term housing as well as other services, according to city spokesperson Matthai Chakko.

“They’re a mental health staff (and there is) a public health nurse to deal with medical issues that people may have,” Chakko said.

HOT will consider multiple factors to identify clients, including “living with mental illness, suffering from addiction, frequent use of emergency rooms and other public resources and problematic street behavior,” according to a city press release.

Previously, the city of Berkeley established the Berkeley Housing Task Force, which provided program, policy and funding recommendation to City Council to improve services for the homeless.

Another ongoing city project to address homelessness is The Hub, a center which “provides emergency shelter, transitional housing and other homeless housing resources” to needy individuals, according to the city’s Housing and Community Service Department website.

“(HOT) is a much more robust attempt (to address homelessness),” said City Councilmember Kriss Worthington. “I’m optimistic this approach will really make a difference.”

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín said many homeless individuals were not aware of the resources available to them, so outreach was an issue that needed to be addressed.

Guy “Mike” Lee, a community homeless advocate and former mayoral candidate for the city of Berkeley, said mentally ill people living on the streets can serve as a public safety issue which can even endanger campus students’ safety.

Lee, however, expressed skepticism at the announcement of the city’s outreach team, stating that the team’s efforts to connect mentally ill homeless individuals with resources would be ineffective because “those resources don’t exist.”

City Councilmember Kate Harrison said she believes homelessness and mental illness were important but separate issues. She called the new HOT, however, a “fantastic” idea, adding that the outreach effort to mentally ill homeless individuals was very important.

Arreguín said homelessness can be an “incredibly traumatic” experience that leads to people developing mental health issues and the new HOT team will make a difference by engaging with the homeless community.

“Housing has shown to work (and) to help with mental health and substance abuse,” Arreguín said. “(HOT) helps (the homeless) get the treatment (they need) and a better life.”


Contact Robin Hyun at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @robinnhyun.