Community evaluates Pathways STAIR Navigation Center after 1st year

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The Pathways STAIR Navigation Center, or Pathways, has successfully rehoused 101 people during its first year of operation; some community homeless advocates believe more can be done to address the homeless crisis in the city of Berkeley, however.

Pathways clients have complained about negative experiences at the center. They cited a lack of privacy, difficulties meeting eligibility standards for admission and even threatening to remove a client due to pregnancy. Many clients have also been unable to secure permanent housing after their transition out of the center.

The center, which opened in June 2018, is a “rapid rehousing” program that provides shelter, meals, showers and laundry facilities for up to 45 homeless community members. Pathways aims to support clients with mental health, hygiene and job needs, and to ultimately provide a path to permanent housing.

Pathways is operated by Bay Area Community Services, or BACS, a nonprofit that operates two navigation centers in Oakland. BACS is working to open centers similar to Pathways in other Bay Area cities, including Hayward and Fremont. As part of Pathways, BACS offers clients on-site guidance with counselors who were previously homeless.

“It’s not just about people coming into the center, it’s about getting to work with community members as they are and getting them into permanent housing,” said Jamie Almanza, BACS executive director.

Pathways has struggled to find enough permanent housing for its clients, according to Almanza. Almanza added that many landlords are unwilling to rent to low-income and previously homeless tenants.

According to Stefan Elgstrand, spokesperson for Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, Pathways clients stayed in the center for 88 days on average. Elgstrand added that 22 percent of the 101 community members who were rehoused were unable to keep their placement.

“During this whole process we make sure that they are financially feasible — we don’t want to give a home to someone that can’t afford it,” Elgstrand said.

Osha Neumann, attorney for the East Bay Community Law Center said although Pathways provides an improvement in homeless services, it doesn’t work for everyone, and people living there have experienced significant problems with the center.

Neumann added that many previous clients of Pathways have commented on the lack of privacy and often feel uncomfortable with the lack of separation between male and female cots in the center. According to Neumann, this has caused a feeling of uneasiness for homeless women who are afraid of sexual assault.

“I feel that Pathways has exclusive offering; out of everyone I have talked to, I cannot think of anyone who has had a positive experiences (with Pathways),” said Berkeley homeless advocate Andrea Hensen.

Pathways does not guarantee admittance. To be added to the center’s “target list,” a homeless person must call 211 or attend a housing workshop at the Berkeley Drop-In Center where they are asked questions about their housing status.

Neumann and Hensen are working with former Pathways client Arika Miles, who was brought to Pathways by her daughter last November. Miles’ daughter is currently living at the Pathways center, but has been asked to leave because she’s pregnant with a baby boy. Miles said her caseworker claims she is a “liability.”

According to Miles, there are no set rules at Pathways and people “drink and do drugs” behind the center. Miles has also lived in the “Here There” camp, a drug-free camp in Berkeley. She said there are clear rules there and that it is “awesome.”

Miles was placed in permanent housing by Pathways in March. She is currently living in an illegally converted garage in Richmond with no hot water or electricity.

“It’s been a horrible six-month nightmare. My landlord comes over every day without a 24-hour notice. … he’s hoping to bully me out,” Miles said. “(I want) permanent housing, like (Pathways) promised (me).”

Contact Clara Rodas and Maria Young at [email protected].

A previous version of this article misspelled Arika Miles’ name.

A previous version of this article misspelled Andrea Henson’s name.