Mayor Jesse Arreguín, student advisory board talk homelessness in Berkeley

Kaho Otake/Staff

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The Student Advisory Board to the Mayor met with Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín on Friday to discuss the causes of the homelessness crisis in Berkeley, actions the city has taken to address it and potential solutions.

Seven UC Berkeley students attended the meeting, at which Arreguín presented the facts of the crisis and what he and the city want to do to fix it. While the session was intended to examine the issue of homelessness in the city as a whole, topics of discussion also included matters of student housing and federal funding.

One major problem facing Berkeley is that despite seeing an increase in homelessness rates, the federal funding the city receives has decreased, Arreguín said. He also repeatedly stated that Alameda County needs to further support cities’ actions to reduce homelessness and that regional solutions must be implemented to reduce homelessness in Berkeley and neighboring cities.

“You can see the correlation decrease in federal funding for housing and more people that become unhoused,” Arreguín said during the meeting. “Berkeley is catching up to the problem. There’s a lot more we have to do.”

Berkeley is doing a lot more to address the homelessness crisis now than it was years ago, according to Arreguín. Throughout the meeting, Arreguín advocated for more navigation centers — hubs that provide a wide array of services, such as mental health programs and job programs.

“We have shelters, but they really should be hubs for services,” Arreguín said during the meeting. “That’s the direction we should be moving in. Not just a place for people to sleep, but a place for people to become self-sufficient.”

Regarding how Berkeley will reduce homelessness in the future, Arreguín said the city’s one-time assistance program for people facing eviction is one way to reduce the number of people slipping into homelessness. The program allows people living in Berkeley to take a one-time cash grant from the city to pay their rent, allowing them to maintain their housing status.

The board meets with Arreguín once a month for the mayor and students to talk about pressing issues in the community, according to Ella Smith, the director of housing and local affairs for the ASUC Office of the President and a former Daily Californian news reporter.

“The discussion topics are meant to address issues that are central to the student experience,” said Angie Chen, director of local affairs for the ASUC external affairs vice president, in an email. “For this meeting on homelessness, for example, the housing crisis is unfortunately a defining aspect of students’ lives at Cal.”

ASUC Student Advocate Sophie Bandarkar asked Arreguín what he thought of students who live in RVs, suggesting that they park in campus parking lots overnight. Arreguín noted that because space is limited in Berkeley and campus lots are not used at night, he would support having students stay there.

Arreguín added that he was also in favor of letting those in vehicular homes stay on the Berkeley Waterfront. He lamented, however, that the City Council voted against creating a provision that would have allowed these residents to remain there.

“It makes me sad to see every day that there are people literally struggling on our streets,” Arreguín said during the meeting. “When I came into office, that was at the beginning of the increase of the number of people who were experiencing homelessness. We put millions of dollars of additional resources. If we don’t do it, who else is going to do it?”

Contact Megha Krishnan at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @_meghakrishnan_.