UC Berkeley social worker provides support to unhoused community by campus

Photo of Ari Neulight
Hsi-Min Chan/Staff
In his mission as a campus social worker to provide resources and legal aid for the unhoused community around UC Berkeley, Ari Neulight mentors, trains and collaborates with students that share his passion for outreach and aid.

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Since 2017, UC Berkeley has employed Ari Neulight as a social worker to support members of the unhoused community around campus.

Neulight primarily does outreach for unhoused community members in and by the People’s Park area. He added he provides anything from food, water and clothing to legal aid or identification for housing.

His outreach has managed to successfully transition more than 80 houseless individuals into housing, according to Anthony Carrasco, former member of Berkeley’s Homeless Services Panel of Experts.

Campus architecture professor Sam Davis recommended that Neulight’s position be created to then Interim Vice Chancellor Carol Christ, according to Davis, who serves as Special Faculty Advisor to Christ on matters related to homelessness and unhoused members of the campus community.

“I have been dismayed that the unhoused frequented many parts of the campus, mostly in and around People’s Park, since the 1980s without the support they deserved and needed,” Davis said in an email. “While the City of Berkeley did (and still do) provide services, it simply doesn’t have the person power to reach all the unhoused in our city.”

Part of Neulight’s responsibilities include student mentorship, Davis said.

Neulight said he provides lectures and trainings for students, works with student groups and mentors interns. His interns typically come from the UC Berkeley School of Social Welfare, but he said he also occasionally receives other graduate students.

Around the time Neulight began his outreach, the city found that on an average night, there are 1,000 people living outside with no shelter in Berkeley, which Carrasco said was determined by experts to be an undercount.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Carrasco said he estimated this number to have likely doubled. 

“The outreach that Ari provides is essential to the unhoused community who live on university owned properties like People’s Park,” Carrasco said. “As talented as Ari is, there is a greater need than that Ari can provide. A team of social workers would be more effective.”

Neulight said he does not know if campus has any plans to hire more social workers. The city, he added, contracts with most of the nonprofit organizations he partners with to provide support throughout Berkeley.

His outreach is currently a reasonably “low barrier, flexible program,” and if more staff is added, there may be tradeoffs, Neulight said.

Generally, Neulight said he can be found at People’s Park or in the area around Telegraph Avenue during regular business hours *from* Monday to Friday and is best contacted by cellphone or in person. He also has an office space across the park to meet in a more private setting.

“People generally connect to me in one of these ways, or a friend links them to me, or word of mouth,” Neulight said in an email. “I try to be real visible.”

Contact Tarunika Kapoor at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @tkapoor_dc.