Update 10/10/18: This story has been updated to include information from Bay Area Community Services program director Daniel Cooperman.
The Pathways STAIR Navigation Center, a center for homeless people in Berkeley that opened June 26, has helped almost 10 people find permanent housing — a list that now includes homeless couple Sarah Smith and Zack Minjarez, as first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.
The center can house up to 45 people, who turn to the shelter to eat meals, take a shower, use laundry facilities and, in some cases, find permanent housing. A nonprofit that manages a larger navigation center in Oakland, Bay Area Community Services, has partnered with the center to help find housing for residents of the center.
Earlier this month, the center helped Smith and Minjarez find an apartment in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The couple moved into the center in July, and they have found housing in less than four months.
“I don’t have words to describe it. It’s a new start,” Minjarez told the San Francisco Chronicle.
There are three full-time navigators that work at the center and are tasked with checking their client’s credit, finding housing and jobs and helping their clients transition out of homelessness, according to Berkeley’s homeless services coordinator Peter Radu.
Radu said finding housing for clients is reliant on the $540,000 in “flexible funding” the center receives to help clients secure housing. The money could go toward rent, security deposits or even a pair of work boots to find a job — ultimately, “anything that helps them go over their housing barriers,” Radu said. Radu stressed that the flexible funding is used at the discretion of the case manager.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, it will cost $1,550 per month to rent out the couple’s studio apartment — and the Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services, or BHCS, will pay the rent until Smith receives her Supplemental Security Income payments. The program operates the BHCS EveryOne Home Fund, which provides a “flexible source of financial assistance to help BHCS consumers and their families move out of homelessness,” according to the BHCS website.
Smith and Minjarez were connected to this resource through Coordinated Entry, which is a system for accessing housing mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, according to BACS program director Daniel Cooperman. From there, an assessment is conducted in which people with the most need are prioritized to receive funding, Cooperman said.
According to Cooperman, after the funds were found, it only took a few weeks to find Smith and Minjarez’s apartment.
“The funds that are housing them weren’t identified until halfway in their stay, and it opened up opportunities,” Cooperman said.
Despite Smith and Minjarez’s success story, Radu acknowledged that finding available housing for the clients who come to the center is an obstacle.
“The navigation center cannot work if there is no housing. That is the major flaw. There is no place to navigate them to, except out (of) town,” said Mike Zint, co-founder of homeless advocacy group First They Came for the Homeless, in an email.
Cooperman said it takes creativity to find housing for residents of the center. He mentioned that the center works with more than 250 landlords to find affordable and realistic housing.
Despite its challenges, Radu said he believes the center has created an environment that other shelters can learn to emulate.
“I’m hoping as well that all of our shelters can become like this,” Radu said. “This will require will from the community — and money.”