Berkeley’s homeless population increases by 14 percent

infographic on homeless population in Alameda and Berkeley
Ariel Lung/Senior Staff

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In this year’s homeless point-in-time count, it was reported that 1,108 persons currently experience homelessness in the city of Berkeley, an increase of 14 percent since the last count in 2017.

Every two years, communities across the United States conduct a count of the local homeless population required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In Alameda County, the count is organized by the nonprofit organization EveryOne Home and was carried out on Jan. 30.

According to Mayor Jesse Arreguín’s blog post about the count, Berkeley has conducted a separate homeless population count under the city’s jurisdiction for the past decade. This year’s count was conducted with service providers and volunteers canvassing the city, shelters and locations where homeless people access services.

“As expected, homelessness throughout Alameda has seen a sharp increase … Berkeley’s increase in homelessness is significantly lower,” Arreguín said in an email. “This being said, the overall increase in homelessness in the Bay Area is unacceptable and all jurisdictions need to focus and work together to solve this crisis.”

Arreguín acknowledged in his blog post that the count is an incomplete sample as not every unhoused person has interacted with volunteer counters. The count showed that the countywide homeless population increased by 43 percent during the same time period.

This year’s report is similar to that of 2017 in that the populations of individuals experiencing homelessness in Alameda County were concentrated in urban centers, with 51 percent enumerated in Oakland, 8 percent in Fremont and 6 percent in Hayward.

City spokesperson Matthai Chakko said that Berkeley alone cannot help individuals experiencing homelessness.

“Our population numbers didn’t grow as much as other places. I think the big thing is that this is not an issue just for one city,” Chakko said. “Helping people who are homeless has to be solved in a regional and statewide process.”

According to this year’s count, 73 percent of people experiencing homelessness in Berkeley were unsheltered compared to the 68 percent of people in 2017. While the number of people served by shelters decreased by 4 percent between 2017 and 2019, there was a 22 percent increase in unsheltered individuals.

According to Arreguín, the city has seen a 36 percent decrease in people becoming homeless for the first time. Arreguín said in an email that this decrease can be attributed to the city’s increased investment in anti-displacement programs over the last couple of years.

Arreguín added in his email that the 2018 voter approval of Measures O and P will invest millions of dollars annually in affordable housing, homeless services and mental health services.

“This will enable us to expand critical services and accelerate our focus on a Housing First policy,” Arreguín said in an email. “We are also increasing regional collaboration on homelessness by looking for partnership opportunities with neighboring cities and the county.”

Program manager at the Dorothy Day House Berkeley Community Resource Center Bob Whalen said that the city has made progress in sheltering the homeless population and has been providing hundreds of beds, with an increase of about 50 beds during the winter.

“So far, it sounds like they’ve been able to place a lot of people from the encampments and shelters into more permanent housing,” Whalen said.

According to Arreguín’s blog post, the 142-unit Berkeley Way project is planned for next year and includes 53 units of permanent supportive housing for homeless and disabled men and women, temporary housing for 32 homeless men, transitional housing for 12 homeless male veterans, as well as offices for various social services.

It is expected that Berkeley will receive $5 million in direct funding from the state for addressing unsheltered homelessness, Arreguín’s post said.

“We have miles to go in addressing the homelessness crisis, but the latest numbers suggest that the investment Berkeley is making into supporting our most vulnerable residents is working,” Berkeley District 7 City Councilmember Rigel Robinson said in an email. “Any increase is heartbreaking, but Berkeley is proving best practices for the region with our direct investment in anti-displacement and supportive housing resources.”

Thao Nguyen is a schools and communites reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @tnguyen_dc.