‘Very heartening’: 2022 count shows decrease in houselessness in Berkeley

Photo of homeless tents
Emilia Bullfone/File
Houselessness in Berkeley has decreased by 5% from 2019 to 2022, according to a report from EveryOne Home.

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A countywide point-in-time count conducted by EveryOne Home revealed a 5% decrease in houselessness in the city of Berkeley from 2019 to 2022, according to a May 16 press release from Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín.

The count is usually conducted every two years, according to the press release, but because of COVID-19, the most recent count was conducted three years after the previous one

The press release stated that in 2019, the point-in-time count revealed that Berkeley had 1,108 houseless individuals, of which 813 were unsheltered. The 2022 count found that the total of unhoused individuals today is 1,057, of which 803 were unsheltered.

“While we will not be satisfied until every homeless individual in Berkeley has a dignified and safe place to live, it’s very heartening to see that our very intentional work is yielding such disproportionately positive results,” said Councilmember Sophie Hahn in an email.

According to Hahn, the decrease can be attributed to the city’s focus on three things — housing retention, increasing the supply of affordable and supportive housing and “state-of-the-art” services and facilities to rehouse people.

Stefan Elgstrand, spokesperson for Arreguín, said in an email that the decrease in houselessness in Berkeley can also be attributed to Berkeley voters who passed Measure P in 2018, which has allowed the city to raise over $40 million for houseless services since 2019. Elgstrand added that the city is projected to generate $12 million annually over the next couple of years.

While housing and transit activist Darrell Owens believes that the city’s initiatives are partially to thank for the decrease in houselessness, he also attributes the decrease to the sweep of houseless communities by Caltrans along the I-80 freeway.

According to Owens, the city has done a “great job” at pushing forward on motel housing programs under Project Roomkey. However, when referring to the point-in-time count, Owens stressed that the data was just a “snapshot” that could change shortly after publication.

While Berkeley showed a 5% decrease in houselessness, the rest of Alameda County showed a 22% increase, according to the mayor’s press release.

City Councilmember Kate Harrison said she believes what sets Berkeley apart from the rest of Alameda County is the Neighborhood Services Division in the city manager’s office, which focuses on working with houseless individuals in encampments to provide housing.

Harrison added that it often takes many times of meeting with a person before they agree to be housed.

“It takes a lot of relationship building and that is what Berkeley invests in,” Harrison said. “I find that to be really effective.”

Moving forward, Harrison said the city is working on two pieces of legislation to continue reducing houselessness — a relocation ordinance, which would require tenants displaced by building maintenance or fire to be relocated, and a demolition ordinance, which would require demolished rent-controlled units to be replaced with other rent-controlled or below-market-rate units.

Ian Cordova Morales, the lead advocate and president of Where Do We Go Berkeley, said in an email that while Berkeley has put effort into housing, there has also been an increase in the number of encampment evictions and sweeps.

Morales added that many of the Where Do We Go Berkeley’s clients have moved into Oakland to avoid the “constant harassment” they have received in Berkeley.

“We will never see a resolution in the homelessness crisis until we address the housing crisis itself,” Morales said in the email. “While new buildings are being built across the bay area, displacement of low income people, particularly people of color seems to still be a contributing factor.”

Contact Anna Armstrong at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @annavarmstrongg.