Measure P raises millions of dollars for homeless services

Infographic showing where the measure P funding will be allocated
Connor Lin/Senior Staff

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Each day, more than 100 members of Berkeley’s homeless community rely on Dorothy Day House to eat breakfast and lunch, do laundry, shower and place their possessions in lockers — however, the nonprofit would not be able to do this without Measure P funds.

Today, Measure P serves Berkeley’s 1,108 homeless individuals, with 73% of them remaining unsheltered. It funds 13 city programs, including the Safe RV Parking Program and the Outdoor Shelter Program.

“How we help our homeless population is a reflection on who we are as a city,” said Mayor Jesse Arreguín in a statement. “With these funds, we can provide a thoughtful and caring approach towards solving the homeless crisis.”

“The Expansion of Services”: What Measure P is

Measure P was passed as a citywide ballot item in the November 2018 midterm elections to raise property transfer taxes on properties worth more than $1.5 million to increase funds for services that help the homeless community.

According to Arreguín, Measure P is essential in enabling the city to meet its “housing first goals” and to address homelessness by providing housing subsidies and other services for the homeless community.

In addition to increasing revenue, Measure P created the city’s Homeless Services Panel of Experts, which includes members with professional or lived experience with homelessness.

The Homeless Services Panel of Experts also advises the city on the allocation of resources and funds for the homeless community, with a special focus on Measure P.

With the input from the Homeless Services Panel of Experts, City Council voted in December 2019 to allocate about $2.5 million for fiscal year 2020 and $11.7 million to the measure for fiscal year 2021, amounting to $14,272,629 for both years.

“I supported the Measure P funding allocations, and the expansion of our services,” said City Councilmember Sophie Hahn in an email. “These are the purposes for which Measure P was passed by the voters, and I am eager to move forward to meet urgent needs in our community.”

Where the money goes

Measure P allocations also fund a variety of programs throughout the city that help serve the homeless community.

The Pathways STAIR Center, which shelters homeless individuals and helps them find permanent housing, is one of many city programs that receives Measure P funding.

In addition to the $2,415,000 from the measure to fund the program in fiscal year 2021, the Pathways STAIR Center was also granted $705,000 to facilitate its expansion.

In fiscal year 2020, the measure also included $1.2 million in funds for 5150 Response and Transport, a service that provides transportation to a medical facility for people experiencing a medical or mental health crisis. A year later, for fiscal year 2021, the amount doubled, providing 5150 Response and Transport with $2.4 million.

Measure P also granted $2.5 million to permanent housing subsidies that same year.

Additionally, Dorothy Day House received $321,340 for fiscal year 2021 for its emergency shelter, which houses homeless individuals during harsh weather, as well as its daytime drop-in program, which provides food to the homeless community.

While David Stegman, executive director of Dorothy Day House, expressed gratitude for the funding, he also added that the funding will not provide a sufficient cost-of-living adjustment for its workers.

The tensions: Whom should the money should go to?

Despite the services provided by Measure P, there have been some tensions within the city among council members and the Homeless Services Panel of Experts regarding funding allocations.

City Councilmember Lori Droste opposed current Measure P funding, claiming it was not sustainable in the long term. She also expressed concerns that the funds would lead to a multimillion-dollar deficit within a few fiscal years. 

“I didn’t want to pull the rug up from people,” Droste said. “The way our allocations lined up is that we were really going to face a very challenging situation in a couple of years where we are going to have to stop funding programs altogether.”

In its recommendations, the Homeless Services Panel of Experts also objected to funding 5150 Response and Transport, as the service is not specific to the homeless community, which Droste claimed is a “completely legitimate” concern.

Though the Homeless Services Panel of Experts believed the program was too broad, Droste said the city had previously promised to include funding for 5150 Response and Transport in its Measure P budget application.

“Our firefighters helped us canvas and ensure the passage of Measure P with the understanding that we were going to help them with that 5150 transport allocation,” Droste said.

Additionally, 5150 Response and Transport is funded as a part of Measure P because the measure’s money is part of the city’s general fund, which does not exclusively pay for homeless services.

There have also been tensions between the city and the Homeless Services Panel of Experts surrounding approaches to homelessness, according to Anthony Carrasco, a member of the panel.

“I am someone who believes in a population-specific approach to homelessness. I believe that you have to put your pants on one leg at a time,” Carrasco said. “We end homelessness among families, then we move on to ending homelessness for veterans, ending homelessness for people with disabilities, ending homelessness for people of color, ending homelessness for queer and trans folks in the population.”

There are people on the panel, however, who do not agree with a population-specific approach and instead want to help as many homeless individuals as possible at a given time. For instance, because homeless individuals without families make up the majority of the population, some argue they should get the majority of resources.

According to Carrasco, tension also exists between the Homeless Services Panel of Experts and City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley, who argued against providing a minimum of $500,000 in housing subsidies for homeless families in 2019.

In her recommendations to City Council, Williams-Ridley said the minimum of $500,000 in housing subsidies is disproportionate to the needs of homeless families because they make up a smaller proportion of Berkeley’s homeless population as a whole.

An uncertain future

As COVID-19 continues to spread, the future of Measure P remains uncertain, and revisions to its funding allocations are likely, according to Hahn. Carrasco is also concerned that the revenue generated from Measure P will decrease as a result of COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Stegman voiced concerns that the pandemic could lead to increased homelessness in the city.

“After the first wave of this, there will be people who will be pushed down from wage earner to low-income, and maybe some people on the street,” Stegman said. “There will be more people in more dire straits.”

Robson Swift is a city government reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @swift_robson.