Berkeley develops mobile wellness center for homeless population

Photo of Berkeley Mental Health Building
Caroline Lobel/Staff
The city of Berkeley plans to implement a mobile wellness center to provide mental health services to the city's homeless population. The plan awaits approval from Berkeley City Council as well as the Mental Health Oversight and Accountability Commission.

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The city of Berkeley is planning on launching a mobile wellness center that would provide mental health services and counseling at homeless encampments throughout the city.

According to a press release from the city of Berkeley, the wellness center is a “short-term pilot project” that will be staffed by a “team of peers,” including those who live in encampments themselves. Services offered by the mobile wellness center include assistance with enrolling in benefits such as Medicaid, providing mental health services and other forms of assistance such as food and storage units.

The wellness center, proposed by Berkeley Mental Health, the city’s mental health division, has taken input from those who have experienced homelessness to explore new options for helping them.

“A central theme of the input received from those who have experienced homelessness is that services should support wellness in creative ways, without assuming that psychiatric or clinical intervention is appropriate for everyone,” according to the press release.

The press release pointed towards the Mental Health Services Act, or MHSA, as the source of its funding. MHSA, approved by California voters in 2004, gives Berkeley $2.8 million in funding over five years towards the wellness center.

Berkeley is one of only two California cities to have its own mental health division, the press release says. The press release further stated that the city’s mental health division provides underprivileged members of the community a chance to access mental health counseling.

According to Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, mental health issues pose a significant problem for Berkeley’s 1,100 homeless individuals. Arreguín stated in an email that 42% of houseless Berkeleyans self-identified as having a mental health issue, while 15% have identified mental health issues as the primary cause of their homelessness.

Ian Cordova Morales, the lead advocate and president of Where Do We Go? Berkeley, praised how the wellness center provides mental health crisis interventions but said he is skeptical about how the wellness center does not solve homelessness itself.

According to Morales, the wellness center is trying to heal those who are “in the process of being hurt,” making it ineffective. He pointed out that while the city is trying to help those who are already homeless, it is failing to help people find a place to live.

Morales said he hopes to see more effort to provide a continual mental health crisis team rather than relying on police. According to him, using the police to respond to mental health crises can lead to homeless people being killed.

The final plan for Berkeley’s mobile wellness center will be submitted to the Berkeley City Council and the Mental Health Oversight and Accountability Commission for approval.

Emma Taila also contributed to this story.

Lance Roberts is a student government reporter. Contact him at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @lance_roberts.