Berkeley City Council holds special meeting to address homelessness

Ireland Wagner/Staff

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Berkeley City Council held a special meeting Tuesday to discuss an extensive report concerning the 1,000 Person Plan to address homelessness.

City Council requested the 1,000 Person Plan in April 2017, according to the February Referral Response on the plan. Tuesday’s special meeting focused on the projected costs of the plan and analysis of the status of Berkeley’s homeless population. The report compiled administrative data from more than 10 years, according to Peter Radu, the secretary for the city Health, Housing & Community Services Department.

According to the report, the single-night count for homeless Berkeley residents is 972 — about half the annual number of homeless residents, according to Radu.

To reach what is referred to as “functional zero” of homelessness, the city would have to pay “between $17 and $21 million in its first year of implementation, growing annually to a total expense of between $31 and $43 million by 2028,” according to the report and February’s Referral Response.

Attaining functional zero would also require a more extensive approach than the original 1,000 Person Plan, which according to the Referral Response, would likely not be adequate to end homelessness entirely.

While the question of resources was brought up several times over the course of the meeting, Mayor Jesse Arreguín advocated that the goal of “reducing chronic homelessness by 50 percent” was a “reasonable goal.”

Several community members with experiences of homelessness spoke during public comment at the meeting. Marina Blanchard said she was homeless despite working full time and that, because of an unstable housing situation, her daughter, an elementary school student, has been labeled a habitual truant.

The council faced some criticism in public comment for its recent ban of RVs from streets for “extended periods of time,” a decision in which the council faced considerable pushback.

“I feel we are in some ways indirectly making the situation worse with our policies against RVs and other things involving encampments,” said District 4 Councilmember Kate Harrison. “I would like us to invoke the ‘do no harm’ principle first, which includes removing criminalization of people who are homeless.”

The size of the homeless population in Berkeley, according to the report, has been rising at an approximate rate of 10 percent every two years. The percentage of homeless people served by the city, however, has been shrinking.

“It is really shameful that we live in a country, that we live in a state, that we live in a city … where we see people living on our streets in tents or sometimes with no shelter at all,” Arreguín said. “I think that is a failure of our humanity and our society, but we in Berkeley, we are going to step up and take responsibility for … trying to solve this crisis.”

Contact Ben Klein at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @BenKlein_dc‏.