City Council to discuss extending resolution that declares homeless shelter crisis

Allen Zeng/Staff

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On November 19, the Berkeley City Council will discuss adopting a resolution to extend the 2016 Resolution No. 68,206 – N.S., which declares a homeless shelter crisis in Berkeley until Jan. 19, 2022.

As a result of a shortage of shelter beds and homeless housing projects, City Council voted to declare a homeless shelter crisis in 2016 by adopting resolution No. 68,206 – N.S. The resolution established a one-year time frame to invest in projects that will support the homeless population.

This resolution has been extended multiple times. Ten months following the approval of the original 2016 resolution, an extension was passed that continued the emergency shelter crisis’ date until January 2018, according to a 2017 City Council report. It was extended an additional two years until January 2020.

This year’s homeless point-in-time count reported that 1,108 people experience homelessness in Berkeley, which is a 14% increase from the last count in 2017. While the homeless population did increase, Stefan Elgstrand, spokesperson for Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, said in an email that it is “significantly lower” than Alameda County’s average homlessness population at 43%.

Building permanent housing is a long-term project, however, there is a need to find housing for homeless populations quickly. According to District 4 Councilmember Kate Harrison, while the city works on building permanent housing, this resolution allows homeless individuals to be housed in structures that do not necessarily meet “normal building codes,” but do have certain criteria to allow for habitation.

“Permanent housing is the answer, but it takes a long time and its expensive,” Harrison said. “These imperfect mediums and short term solutions aren’t great, but they allow us to meet this crisis in a humanitarian way while we’re working towards a permanent solution.”

For example, the emergency shelter resolution enables the establishment of shelters in churches and a winter shelter in the old city hall, which opened last year and will remain open this year, according to Harrison.

Harrison added that the city is asking existing shelters to consider becoming navigation centers.

Navigation centers enable people to find a stable place to reside, unlike shelters which allow people to stay overnight, according to Harrison.

“This is a medium term solution whereas shelters are a short-term solution,” Harrison said.

Co-founder of First They Came For The Homeless Mike Zint said in an email that these programs act as a “band aid” as they are never enough and fail to include low-income housing.

Zint said many homeless individuals supported Mayor Jesse Arreguín in his campaign efforts. Because of this, Zint said he hopes Arreguín will prioritize the homeless population and support them as they did for him.

“An extension of the resolution declaring a homeless shelter crisis is essential for us to continue the work the City is doing to address homelessness,” Elgstrand said in the email. “However, there still is a long way to go, and this resolution will enable us to maximize the effectiveness of our resources.”

Contact Maxine Mouly at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @moulymaxine.