Berkeley City Council votes to develop city homeless youth policy

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Berkeley City Council voted unanimously to develop policies to increase support and resources for the city’s homeless youth population Tuesday.

The city council agenda item, primarily authored by Councilmember Ben Bartlett, calls for the Homeless Commission, Youth Commission, Commission on Labor and city manager to develop policy specifically for homeless youth.

The item stated that the policy could potentially include:

  • designating a portion of the city’s homelessness budget to homeless youth programs,
  • identifying job opportunities for homeless youth,
  • working with local businesses to help homeless youth develop practical job skills,
  • collaborating with Berkeley Unified School District to provide resources, such as laundry facilities and scholarships to obtain YMCA memberships and fee waivers.

A census of Berkeley’s homeless population conducted in 2015 by EveryOne Home indicates that a disproportionate amount of the city’s homeless youth are Black or Latino, and about 20 percent of this population left home because of “conflict with parents over LGBTQI status,” according to the item.

Bartlett said one of the reasons he introduced the item is because there are no “set policies” concerning homeless youth, even though some programs currently exist.

“We deal with millions of dollars in homeless services,” Bartlett said. “There’s a lack of appropriate targeting for this most vulnerable aspect of our homeless population.”

According to Councilmember Sophie Hahn, youth under 18 account for slightly less than 5 percent of the homeless population, and youth under 24 account for 25 percent of the homeless population. Hahn said one goal of the item is to identify the varying needs of the subpopulations of Berkeley’s homeless and to fund the programs that assist these needs.

The item also recommends collaborating with law enforcement and probation officers to “identify and engage” homeless youth, claiming that collaboration with entities in the criminal justice system can support better trajectories for at-risk youth.

“A lot of at-risk youth are already caught up in the criminal justice system,” Hahn said. “So we would want our law enforcement professionals to be more knowledgeable about homeless youth and their challenges and be useful resources to them.”

Bartlett said he hopes that developing homeless youth policies can “bend the curve” of growing numbers of homeless youth in Berkeley.

“Young people have able bodies and bright minds and they should be possessed with energy and optimism,” Bartlett said. “For someone of that age to be homeless is particularly distressing, but also, I would argue, the most curable. They’re the most malleable, the most healthy and the most adaptable.”

Guy “Mike” Lee, a community homeless advocate and member of the city’s Homeless Commission, said he felt that the council introduced the item to boost chances of reelection.

Youth homelessness is a nice, safe issue to propose. … City Council isn’t dealing with the whole problem,” Lee said. “There’s already a disproportionate amount of money going to (homeless) youth.”

Contact Cade Johnson at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @cadejohnson98.